Social Class as Culture

Social class is more than just how much money you have. It’s also the clothes you wear, the music you like, the school you go to—and has a strong influence on how you interact with others, according to the authors of a new article in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. People from lower classes have fundamentally different ways of thinking about the world than people in upper classes—a fact that should figure into debates on public policy, according to the authors.

“Americans, although this is shifting a bit, kind of think class is irrelevant,” says Dacher Keltner of the University of California-Berkeley, who cowrote the article with Michael W. Kraus of UC-San Francisco and Paul K. Piff of UC-Berkeley. “I think our studies are saying the opposite: This is a profound part of who we are.”

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 of nobless 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.”

The ability to rise in class is the great promise of the American Dream. But studies have found that, as people rise in the classes, they become less empathetic. Studies have also found that as people rise in wealth, they become happier—but not as much as you’d expect. “I think one of the reasons why is the human psyche stops feeling the need to connect and be closer to others, and we know that’s one of the greatest sources of happiness science can study,” Keltner says.

Comments

Who wrote this article ?

On the top right corner it says..maybe Keltner is the author not 100% sure.

For more information about this research, please contact study author:

Dacher Keltner
keltner@berkeley.edu

I disagree. I am lower class, but I know wealthy people who are giving as anyone, if not more.

In general, these findings are absolutely true.

You are correct, there are some rebellious people who act outside their assigned class.

I was born in lowest of class in the Bronx. I did the logical thing, education and hard work while my friends chose to
take the wide and easy path of the subculture. Today I am a wealthy man, proud of this country while they are still hanging around the same neighborhoods, same poverty, same attitudes, same desire of just existing. In fact some are actually proud of their ghettoness. I think the crude fact is that there is no absolute need to “give back”, give back what? I didn’t ” take ” anything I sweated everything. What we need is for the public schools to teach and to correct the poor man’s world view and attitude, his thinking process. How and why to strive for greater things instead of feeding pride for the getto. Make welfare conditional, give them a reason to want to move forward and a clear path. Just giving people stuff is actually destructive to the human soul.

Your comment is very powerful, the school system needs great thinkers like you to educate the poor thinkers.

Where will this education reform come from? I believe giving back means that since you did in fact, benefit from this society, so give back to those who happen to be less fortunate. For example, to the kids who are born in this ‘ghetto’, you are from. I think giving back is more than just monetary. Like being a BIG in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

strange… i took that seriously. but when i tried to “give back” i was shunned by the higher social circle i was actually a part of and shamed to a submission level that i was doing something wrong because of the “company i was keeping” so what exactly is the point? no good deed goes unpunished

So true. I had forgotten that experience until I read your comment. I made a decision 40 years ago that put me from middle class to lower class. I had two sons with a man I married. He had a promising future but made an extremely bad decision which landed him in prison. Despite clawing my way for a college education I’ve only received an AS in Human Services. I’ve had several injuries from on the job injuries. One as a local delivery driver. I tried that despite qualification for professional semi tractor-trailer operator. I did have one truck driving position I really enjoyed with a survivable income with 2-3 runs per week. Except, no consistent overnight childcare. No family participation from grandparents or my siblings. Many falling through the cracks do not have a support structure. I’m really wondering how we can help those in need without being shunned. My best experience has been part of a respected group. Maybe church? Maybe form an organized group? As you can see from my story there is a need for simple things that maybe family would do. By the way, I am presently homeless living in an RV. I tried roommates. The last one beat me up and gave me the worst concussion of my life. This was because I let her use my phone. She was excessively lying to a company to get a product replaced illegally. I wanted my phone back because I didn’t want to be a party to that. I don’t have enough government money for even a hovel. Plus I ended up with wrecked credit due to an eviction from a property manager who even lied in court. I have been better and worse living in an RV. Crazy, huh.

Hi Gus, I’m glad for your success in rising from the depth of the Bronx, but didn’t you also attend public schools there? Weren’t the messages you learned there important for your development? Also, there is no more “welfare” in America. TANF,Temporary Aid for Needy Families,was limited to a LIFETIME maximum of 5 years back in the 1990s and has never been reinstated. Even food stamps for the poor to eat have been cut back recently by Republicans.
Public assistance in the US is much lower than almost every one of the 28 European Union nations. They all guarantee health care for everyone including the poorest. Most provide child care and housing assistance so the poor can rise up out of poverty. Our effective tax rates are also much lower, so wealthier folks keep more but don’t donate as much as poorer folks. So those with the most end up hoarding resources while poverty and poor health are on the rise.

The problem is trickle-down gentrification.
America is now a Narcissist Nation: Image over Substance. My town has been becoming gentrified over the past two decades. McMansions everywhere! Do you know Mentality which buys and lives in a McMansion? Elitist, higher-than-thou “You live in a small house and a small care YOU ARE SMALL and I’ll crush you, working class Vermin!”
Eventually THAT becomes the norm. It’s bad enough that all of the stores and eating places have been replaced by yuppie high-priced dens. I have to go to neighboring towns just to shop!

Maybe “giving back” is not exactly the expression we are looking for. How about simply “Giving”? Those with wealth must help support those in need. The shrinking middle-class cannot carry all the burden. OK, there is a tax system which is supposed to carry this out, but it is currently dysfunctional. Charity is great, and is to be commended, but we (as a functioning society) must care for those in need, and to do so we need to obtain more revenues. The best option would be to roll-back Trump’s corporate tax cuts.

truth. well said.

I guess I will never be evil enough to make it to the global Elite, then.

What good, however, is to be so rich that you can afford not to care so much about others, if in the end ageing gets you? No, I’ve reached a point where even the prospect of amassing riches and making it to the top echelons of society doesn’t enthuse me. Of course, even if it enthused me, I most likely would never make it to the Global Elite -among many other things, the game is rigged-. No, what enthuses me is the dream, however unlikely, of a planetary Ascension, in which the good-hearted will inherit the Earth, will literally shine with light, and senescence for them will be no more.

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