Psychologists: Upper-Class People Have Trouble Recognizing the Emotions of Other People

Psychological researchers Michael W. Kraus, Stéphane Côté, and Dacher Keltner noticed that poorer people tended to be more dependent upon relationships that wealthier people:

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[...]


So they wondered if lower-class people were able to perceive the emotional states of others at a higher level than upper-class people. They decided to use educational attainment as a determinant of social class and tested the comparative ability of college graduates and non-college graduates at reading facial expressions:

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."


Link via Glenn Reynolds | Photo by Flickr user Ibrahim Iujaz used under Creative Commons license

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The full text of this article is available from the authors website, here:
http://www.rotman.utoronto.ca/facBios/file/Kraus%20C%C3%B4t%C3%A9%20Keltner%20PS%20in%20press.pdf

It's worth reading the _actual article_, as this is a somewhat simplified version.
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"They decided to use educational attainment as a determinant of social class and tested the comparative ability of college graduates and non-college graduates"

...seriously? That might be a good thing to study regarding emotional perception, but it is NOT a determinant of social class. If anything, college graduates are more likely to be middle-class than anything. The three PhDs I know personally are nowhere near upper class. One of them is right on the line between "lower" and "middle" class, inasmuch as there is such a line. The whole study is questionable on the assertion that education=class alone.
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It's important to note that being able to perceive the emotions of others doesn't make you *more caring*. The same as knowing more about, say, law, don't make you more ethical.

So if you are 'poor' you might be able to tell what other people are feeling easier, but that doesn't make you a nicer or more compassionate person. Heck, a manipulative sadist could be very good at judging other people's emotions. At the same time, a 'rich' but kind-hearted person might have trouble telling what other people are feeling. These are just examples, of course.

TD;DR version = Recognizing emotions doesn't mean being considerate of them.
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This is "social darwinism". My theory is that this is a variation on "blame the victim". They can't handle the idea that poverty is something that might happen to them, or someone they care about, so they convince themselves that people are poor due to their own mistakes. Single mother? Well, she must have been promiscuous, or failed to use birth control. It never occurs to them that she might have been raped, or widowed, or abandoned, or abused. Homeless? Well, they will say he's lazy, or a drug addict. Tell them that someone lost everything due to catastrophic illness, they simply won't believe you.
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lulu-yes, it makes you more caring-when poor, there's not much choice-because you have to rely on others more, and thus develop social skills. Also, do you see many upper class types living in crowded situations, where social skills are a must? No. First thing any upper class type does, is remove themselves (if they were ever in) from such situations, and hang out with a small number of equally socially awkward upper class types. This has been done for a long time.
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