Upper-class people have trouble recognizing others' emotions

November 22, 2010

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, a journal of the Association for 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, says Michael W. Kraus of the University of California-San Francisco. He cowrote the study with Stéphane Côté of the University of Toronto and Dacher Keltner of the University of California-Berkeley.

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 . 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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11 comments

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jonnyboy
1 / 5 (6) Nov 22, 2010
researchers used educational level as a proxy for social class............NUFF SAID
MatthiasF
1 / 5 (3) Nov 23, 2010
So, the study finds that highly educated people care less about what others think (lack of emotional empathy).

Why is this news to anyone and why is it being projected onto the "upper-class"?
ArtflDgr
1 / 5 (1) Nov 23, 2010
So women falsely will focus on lack of emotions as a sign of upper social status, which when wrong, is not a good thing
Skepticus
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 23, 2010
With wealth and power comes privileges. Why should I care about what the foul-smelling rabbles feels when I can pass laws, change laws, buy votes, out-spend competitors, and sue almost anyone into the gutter?
And, by the way, I don't care if i make grammatical error here either.
marjon
1 / 5 (3) Nov 23, 2010
"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,"
When the 'upper class' pay for child care, they are relying other others to care for their children, too.
In many cultures, children are cared for better with family, not strangers.
"...without relying on others—they aren't as dependent on the people around them."
Of course they are relying on others. They are just as dependent.
'this work helps show that stereotypes about the classes are wrong."
But the study did stereotype.(?)
le_mig
not rated yet Nov 24, 2010
Many points - because much of what has been commented seems confused. It is just a brief news clip so over-simplicity is at fault, I think.

Class Proxy.
As stated, one experiment involved differing education levels (biased.) Another experiment was based on self-reported socioeconomic class levels (biased.) And the final experiment tried to lower the participants' sense of SEC to test the effect of that.

Education was used as a very loose proxy (not direct connection, but associative) to try to pin down and describe some of the effects of SEC without defeating the purpose by just using polled SEC reports carte blanche.
le_mig
not rated yet Nov 24, 2010
You really can't just use annual income tax reports to evaluate differences in social interactions.

They weren't forced to use education (as they did in only 1 study) to weigh SEC.. they chose to use that as a controlled outside evaluation of class. The premise is rational and valid. It projects onto class because the trends of the education premise study matches those of their other SEC experiments.

Dependence vs Independence.
The stereotype they're testing is not the one about how best children are raised. The connection to education and class is aimed at, among others, financial security - as in whether or not differing classes are forced to rely heavily on their friends and family.. hence their attention to emotional perception!
le_mig
not rated yet Nov 24, 2010
Being dependent on others for favors (while you spend time at work or .. wait for it .. Go to Class!) is very, very different than being independent enough to pay whomever you wish for childcare as you do whatever. Looking at this alone, you may not think education level is related.. but the other studies makes the emotional correlation to education as well.
le_mig
5 / 5 (1) Nov 24, 2010
Conclusion.
I see it like this. They're trying to pin down the chicken vs egg problem before others try to dismiss their findings as mere stereotypes about SEC. The findings make sense to me: Your emotional perception seems to increase the lower in class you FEEL, perhaps making you better able to find others to rely upon. This article is not demonizing the lack of emotion detection (and certainly is NOT calling upper-class less emotional or sociopathic either!!) It (very) simply points out how the ability to detect emotions seems to correlate with (and be changed by) how much one depends on her/his social connections.
le_mig
not rated yet Nov 24, 2010
Because of the approach of these studies, you can't pin this one on just income or education alone. These findings along with a rationale from the "lower class" applies to both criteria suggesting that the types of financial/emotional security (and respective independence/ease of mind) often attributed to the "upper class" seems to lead all of us to use much less mental muscle - or at least in the departments of detecting the emotions of others.
Ravenrant
not rated yet Nov 29, 2010
It's the plastic surgery and Botox, they aren't used to seeing emotions on peoples faces, the peasants are revolting.

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