Last updated January 11, 2018 at 10:33 am
If you’ve ever thought that rich people are jerks, well the latest research might just agree with you – if you read between the diplomatic and objective scientific lines.
Two studies just out from the US provide insight into the relationship between wealth and emotions. It looks like having less money is associated with greater wisdom and more positive feelings about relationships and other people. The first study, regarding social class and wise reasoning, used both online surveys and data from in-person interviews.
They defined wise reasoning as recognising the limits of your knowledge, considering the world in flux and change, and acknowledging and integrating different perspectives.
In an online survey, 2145 participants were guided through an exercise to accurately recall a recent experience from their life where they interacted with a friend or colleague.
They were then asked questions which would reveal their level of wise reasoning in the situation. In analysing the results, they looked at both a state level and an individual level.
They found that ‘people from states with higher average social class were less likely to use wise reasoning style about interpersonal experiences’ and ‘higher individual social class was significantly negatively associated with wise reasoning’. To shore up these findings and account for any bias of running an online survey, the researchers analysed data from a previous study that asked 199 participants from a wide range of social classes to react to advice column letters and newspaper articles.
Higher social classes employed less wise reasoning
The letters and articles were about conflicts, and the participants were prompted to reflect on what probably happened next, and why, and what they think should happen.
Again, they found that higher social classes employed less wise reasoning. Interestingly, in both cases they found that people are ‘less likely to reason wisely when the other person involved in the situation is of lower status.’
So why would lower social class mean wiser reasoning? The authors suggest that ‘the working class and the poor are more likely to focus on close relationships (versus individuality) and in-group cooperation (versus competition)’ and show ‘a broader attentional focus and heightened sensitivity to contextual cues’. This finding is borne out by the second study, which shows that when it comes to positive emotions, a higher social class is associated with greater self-oriented feelings, and a lower social class is associated with greater other-oriented feelings.
The researchers looked at pride, contentment, love, compassion, amusement, awe, and enthusiasm in more than 1519 participants.
People in a lower social class show ‘external, other-oriented focus’
They considered pride and contentment self-oriented, and love and compassion other-oriented.
They suggest that people in a higher social class have an ‘internal, self-oriented focus’ because their greater material resources afford them ‘greater autonomy and reduced exposure to social and environmental threat’. Conversely, people in a lower social class show ‘external, other-oriented focus’ because they ‘are exposed to more threats to their well-being … and they possess fewer resources to cope with these threats’. Basically, people in a lower social class can’t afford not to play nicely with others.
Feeling compassion and love is likely ‘an adaptive response to facilitate the development of supportive, interdependent bonds that they can draw on to navigate threats and adversity’.
Whether you have a little bit of money or a lot, knowing this tendency of human nature is a good reminder of our ability to make choices about our behaviour.
Just because you’re more likely to feel pride rather than compassion doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk.