Upper-Class People Have Trouble Recognizing Others’ Emotions

October-27-PGF-375A window into the behavior of CEOs and politicians? Science Daily writes:

Upper-class people have more educational opportunities, greater financial security, and better job prospects than people from lower social classes, but that doesn’t mean they’re more skilled at everything. A new study published in Psychological Science finds surprisingly, that lower-class people are better at reading the emotions of others.

The researchers were inspired by observing that, for lower-class people, success depends more on how much they can rely on other individuals. For example, if you can’t afford to buy support services, such as daycare service for your children, you have to rely on your neighbors or relatives to watch the kids while you attend classes or run errands.

One experiment used volunteers who worked at a university. Some had graduated from college and others had not; researchers used educational level as a proxy for social class. The volunteers did a test of emotion perception, in which they were instructed to look at pictures of faces and indicate which emotions each face was displaying. People with more education performed worse on the task than people with less education. In another study, university students who were of higher social standing (determined from each student’s self-reported perceptions of his or her family’s socioeconomic status) had a more difficult time accurately reading the emotions of a stranger during a group job interview.

These results suggest that people of upper-class status aren’t very good at recognizing the emotions other people are feeling. The researchers speculate that this is because they can solve their problems, like the daycare example, without relying on others — they aren’t as dependent on the people around them.

A final experiment found that, when people were made to feel that they were at a lower social class than they actually were, they got better at reading emotions. This shows that “it’s not something ingrained in the individual,” Kraus says. “It’s the cultural context leading to these differences.” He says this work helps show that stereotypes about the classes are wrong. “It’s not that a lower-class person, no matter what, is going to be less intelligent than an upper-class person. It’s all about the social context the person lives in, and the specific challenges the person faces. If you can shift the context even temporarily, social class differences in any number of behaviors can be eliminated.”

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  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    Pretty reasonable discovery. Frankly, upper-crusties don’t have the need to develop emotional recognition/empathy skills…they have other means to deal with issues…denial, isolation, escapism and flinging money at things until they go away. The rest of us actually have to interact more closely with people from a wide variety of backgrounds, with very little ability to insulate ourselves when we aren’t comfortable. You adapt or fall apart.

    Curiously, one good example of a place that sees regular crossings of the class barrier and allows one a chance to observe people from multiple financial strata intermingling is : a gay bar. Gay people come from all walks of life, but in a given area there only tend to be just a few gay bars…so every class is drawn to the same building at least for a few hours on the weekend. Its a hell of an opportunity for a people watcher with an interest in sociology, psychology and anthropology.

  • http://voxmagi-necessarywords.blogspot.com/ VoxMagi

    Pretty reasonable discovery. Frankly, upper-crusties don’t have the need to develop emotional recognition/empathy skills…they have other means to deal with issues…denial, isolation, escapism and flinging money at things until they go away. The rest of us actually have to interact more closely with people from a wide variety of backgrounds, with very little ability to insulate ourselves when we aren’t comfortable. You adapt or fall apart.

    Curiously, one good example of a place that sees regular crossings of the class barrier and allows one a chance to observe people from multiple financial strata intermingling is : a gay bar. Gay people come from all walks of life, but in a given area there only tend to be just a few gay bars…so every class is drawn to the same building at least for a few hours on the weekend. Its a hell of an opportunity for a people watcher with an interest in sociology, psychology and anthropology.

    • Ironaddict06

      Good observation Voxmagi. I use to work in the gay area of the city, and there were 2 major gay bars and 1 lesbian bar. I’ve been to all 3 with friends, and it is interesting to see very different class levels inter-act with each other.
      Those Elites all act alike.

  • Ironaddict06

    Good observation Voxmagi. I use to work in the gay area of the city, and there were 2 major gay bars and 1 lesbian bar. I’ve been to all 3 with friends, and it is interesting to see very different class levels inter-act with each other.
    Those Elites all act alike.

  • Anonymous

    This puts me in mind of the sequences in Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” where he’s tripping on acid and before his eyes the plastic-fantastic lounge goers of a decadent casino bar turn into horrible slavering lizard monsters.

    Yessir, that boy was definitely onto something there, about the dehumanizing effect of prolonged exposure to such weird, hedonistic environs.

  • Liam_McGonagle

    This puts me in mind of the sequences in Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” where he’s tripping on acid and before his eyes the plastic-fantastic lounge goers of a decadent casino bar turn into horrible slavering lizard monsters.

    Yessir, that boy was definitely onto something there, about the dehumanizing effect of prolonged exposure to such weird, hedonistic environs.

  • Untitled-01

    “researchers used educational level as a proxy for social class” so this entire study is bullshit. According to this study, Bill gates is in with the people who have high school diplomas right? Everybody knows smarter people are less likely to be socially adept.

  • Untitled-01

    “researchers used educational level as a proxy for social class” so this entire study is bullshit. According to this study, Bill gates is in with the people who have high school diplomas right? Everybody knows smarter people are less likely to be socially adept.

  • ComoKate

    Maybe, just maybe, many of the so called “upper class” would be better described in terms of a personality disorder such as the Anti-social and Narcissistic personality disorders; both notorious for lacking in empathy/concern for others, being totally self absorbed, and often, due to their lack or scruples, rise to the top in terms of income/careers ( since they have no problem stepping on the necks of others on their way up). I think you are looking at a manifestation of a much bigger problem…that being the underlying personality disorder.

  • ComoKate

    Maybe, just maybe, many of the so called “upper class” would be better described in terms of a personality disorder such as the Anti-social and Narcissistic personality disorders; both notorious for lacking in empathy/concern for others, being totally self absorbed, and often, due to their lack or scruples, rise to the top in terms of income/careers ( since they have no problem stepping on the necks of others on their way up). I think you are looking at a manifestation of a much bigger problem…that being the underlying personality disorder.

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