Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Rich Don't Care About You

I am Jack's Complete Lack of Surprise that a new study shows that rich people have a lack of empathy.

The paper, published in October by the Association for Psychological Science, recounts three experiments conducted among students and employees of a large (unidentified) public university, some of whom had graduated from college and others who had not. In American social science, the definition of class is generally based on measures like income, occupational prestige and material wealth. In these experiments, class was determined either by educational level or by self-reported perceptions of family socioeconomic status.

In the first experiment, participants were asked to look at pictures of faces and indicate which emotions were being expressed. The more upper class the judges, the less able they were to accurately identify emotions in others.

In another experiment, upper-class participants had a harder time reading the emotions of strangers during simulated job interviews.

In the third one — an interesting twist of an experiment — people of greater socioeconomic status were asked to compare themselves to the wealthiest, most powerful Americans, thus diminishing their own relative stature. When asked to identify emotions by looking at 36 sets of emoting eyes, they did markedly better than their upper-class peers.

Fascinating stuff. I think it also shows why politicians have such a hard time enacting policies to help the less well off. Here's a chart I whipped up outlining the median wealth of Senators, Representatives, and average American families.

That's a striking difference. If wealthy people struggle psychologically to empathize with other people, is it any wonder that politicians seem so hell bent on slashing Social Security, Medicare, education, food stamps, and any program designed to help others? They know it's not going to have an impact on them, so why should they care?

I really have no idea what could be done to fix this.

1 comment:

Dana said...

If they would just try to preserve the middle class just a little, they would find that it benefits them as well. I'm not even thinking about the poor here -- they can't lower themselves enough to preserve the middle class. Sick.