people help an elderly man

It’s not a surprise that people born into wealth think differently than than people born into a lower class background. I was surprised, however, at the conclusions the authors came to.

“People who come from a lower-class background have to depend more on other people. “If you don’t have resources and education, you really adapt to the environment, which is more threatening, by turning to other people,” Keltner says. “People who grow up in lower-class neighborhoods, as I did, will say,’ There’s always someone there who will take you somewhere, or watch your kid. You’ve just got to lean on people.'”

“Wealthier people don’t have to rely on each other as much. This causes differences that show up in psychological studies. People from lower-class backgrounds are better at reading other people’s emotions. They’re more likely to act altruistically. “They give more and help more. If someone’s in need, they’ll respond,” Keltner says. When poor people see someone else suffering, they have a physiological response that is missing in people with more resources. “What I think is really interesting about that is, it kind of shows there’s all this strength to the lower class identity: greater empathy, more altruism, and finer attunement to other people,” he says. Of course, there are also costs to being lower-class. Health studies have found that lower-class people have more anxiety and depression and are less physically healthy.
Upper-class people are different, Keltner says. “What wealth and education and prestige and a higher station in life gives you is the freedom to focus on the self.” In psychology experiments, wealthier people don’t read other people’s emotions as well. They hoard resources and are less generous than they could be.

“One implication of this, Keltner says, is that’s unreasonable to structure a society on the hope that rich people will help those less fortunate. “One clear policy implication is, the idea ofnobless oblige or trickle-down economics, certain versions of it, is bull,” Keltner says. “Our data say you cannot rely on the wealthy to give back. The ‘thousand points of light’ — this rise of compassion in the wealthy to fix all the problems of society — is improbable, psychologically.” –Science Daily

Writing Prompt: Write a character sketch. What is your character’s background? How is this expressed in her strengths and weaknesses?

Journaling Prompt: What socioeconomic class did you grow up in? Do you agree or disagree with this research? Why or why not?

Art Prompt: Thousand Points of Light

Nonfiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell your audience about the differences between people’s willingness to help based on their socioeconomic status.

Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon on Flickr


4 Responses to Prompt #128 The Psychology of Socioeconomic Classes

  1. Interesting. I admit, I’ve never thought about this issue in such depth. It makes sense although I always stay away from generalizing — it’s hard to put everyone in the same category just because they are (or aren’t) wealthy. I rather think of people as individuals. Great post. Thank you for sharing!

    • Liz says:

      I agree. People are individuals. But this would create some depth in a character, to know what kind of class they were raised in and how that might motivate them when they need help or are asked to help.

  2. zencherry says:

    Interesting. Hmm. I think that we need to take into consideration that all findings have to go through the author’s predilections and preconceived notions although they do point out some very good baseline markers. This is one that I’ll definitely be thinking on for a while. Thanks! 😀

    • Liz says:

      I got a long email from a friend in an MSW program about this one. I think what she finally landed on was that what is reported here is “default mode”, the way we act if we aren’t mindful about our actions/words. But we have the capacity to rise above our “default mode” through mindfulness.

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