Class, power, and empathy

This is a fascinating study on class and empathy. This summary explains the finding—that people with less education (their proxy for class) did better at recognizing others’ emotions—in terms of peer relationships (judging when and how to ask your friends for help), but it seems like they have a lot to do with power dynamics as well (judging how to avoid negative attention from those who have power over you).

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.

Originally published at

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