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Rich People Might Actually Be Clueless When It Comes to Others

·376 words·2 mins
Psyched for the Weekend

Boy, oh boy, peer-reviewed psychological research is getting lit lately. There is a lot of study in the area of how being wealthy can affect the way that you treat other people.

For example, a former installment of this same series covered a study which demonstrated that being rich in money can also mean being poor in both empathy and scruples.

But I happened upon a newer study that dug down into a few different aspects of being “out of touch” due to wealth.

And today’s study is one that demonstrated the following:

  • Upper class folks are worse at reading the emotions of other people.
  • The study It also found that they’re bad at perspective-taking, that is being able to assume another person’s perspective.

This second finding isn’t surprising exactly given previous research’s insight that higher wealth tends to lead to lower empathy. Being lower empathy would suggest that perspective-taking would be more difficult.

However, it’s nice to see that teased out on its own.

Unlike the first study, in which people were arbitrarily made more wealthy in a game setting (which establishes causation), this study didn’t manipulate individual wealth. Instead, their real life wealth was correlated with their measured ability to read the emotions of other people and take the perspectives of others. Therefore, a causality cannot be implied.

However, there does seem to be some kind of link. And the fact that preexisting socioeconomic status is studied (as opposed to artificial wealth manipulation as an experiment), in some ways it strengthens the overall body of work, by showing similar patterns are present without a manipulation. At least, intuitively — which is not the same as empirically. But it’s something to think about.

Anyway, it’s very interesting research — and something I plan to keep a close eye on. I myself have spent time among people from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, and this body of work really does seem to empirically pinning down something I’d seen many, many times in the wild.


This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.



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