People from the upper echelons of society may seem to have it all. That idea has been challenged by a new study which shows that despite, or in fact because of, their lifestyle they may lack something: the ability to read emotion.
This research was inspired by the theory that for people of lower socio-economic status surviving and succeeding depends on how much you can rely on other individuals. If you donâ€™t have the money to purchase childcare for instance, then you need to be able to know who you can trust to look after your children.
By contrast people from higher socioeconomic strata tend to have more educational opportunities, greater financial security, and better job prospects. They tend not to need others so much because of their financial independence.
One study conducted by these researchers used education levels as a measure of social class. For the study people were asked to look at pictures of faces and were asked to indicate what emotion the faces were displaying. People with more education performed significantly worse on the task than did people with less education.
In another study people of higher socioeconomic status had a more difficult time accurately reading the emotion of a stranger during a group job interview.
The researchers conclude that people from higher socioeconomic classes are able to solve their problems without relying so much on others and so they are not so reliant on being able to read emotions in others.
A final experiment however, showed that if you can make people think they are of a lower socioeconomic status than those around them, then get immediately better at reading emotions.
This goes to show that behaviour is highly dependent on high context. It offers hope to that if people like bank CEOs could be placed in contexts where they felt economic inferiority then perhaps a modicum of empathy might grow.