How Inequality Hollows Out the Soul

The New York Times:

One of the well-known costs of inequality is that people withdraw from community life and are less likely to feel that they can trust others. This is partly a reflection of the way status anxiety makes us all more worried about how we are valued by others. Now that we can compare robust data for different countries, we can see not only what we knew intuitively — that inequality is divisive and socially corrosive — but that it also damages the individual psyche.

Our tendency to equate outward wealth with inner worth invokes deep psychological responses, feelings of dominance and subordination, superiority and inferiority. This affects the way we see and treat one another.

A few years ago, we published evidence that showed that in developed countries, major and minor mental illnesses were three times as common in societies where there were bigger income differences between rich and poor. In other words, an American is likely to know three times as many people with depression or anxiety problems as someone in Japan or Germany.

In a study published in 2012, Sheri L. Johnson, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and colleagues reviewed a vast body of evidence from biological, behavioral and self-reported accounts, and concluded that a wide range of mental disorders might originate in a “dominance behavioral system.” This part of our evolved psychological makeup, almost universal in mammals, enables us to recognize and respond to social ranking systems based on hierarchy and power. One brain-imaging study discovered that there were particular areas of the brain and neural mechanisms dedicated to processing social rank.

Read the whole story: The New York Times

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