Photo: Jennifer Su via flickr
How much empathy do you have? It largely depends upon your socioeconomic status.”We have now done 12 separate studies measuring empathy in every way imaginable, social behaviour in every way, and some work on compassion and it’s the same story,” says Dacher Keltner, a University of California-Berkeley psychology professor. “Lower class people just show more empathy, more prosocial behaviour, more compassion, no matter how you look at it.”
Keltner’s latest co-authored work, “Social Class as Culture: The Convergence of Resources and Rank in the Social Realm,” affirms this.
To test empathy, researchers studied video-taped interactions between strangers of different social classes, and found that overwhelmingly those of a higher social class were more disengaged — “for instance checking their cell phone or doodling on a questionnaire, whereas lower-class individuals displayed more socially engaged eye contact, head nods, and laughs.”
In another study, they looked at how high-school-educated participants were able to read facial expressions, and compared the results with those of college-educated participants. The less educated were much more spot-on with their “empathic accuracy.”
Keltner says it comes down to this: “Unlike the rich, lower-class people have to depend on others for survival. So they learn ‘prosocial behaviours.’ They read people better, empathise more.”
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