Good food for good thought

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.

Social Class As Culture

4 thoughts on “Good food for good thought”

  1. Permite-me a liberdade para supor, Valito, que o Keltner é mais um desses super-inteligentes portadores de yarmulke que costumas descobrir nas dobras de virilhas de respeitáveis instituições de ensino. Mesmo que eu esteja enganado mais uma vez, não irei no futuro desistir da minha melhor arma: a intuição, sempre certa em 70 ou 80 por cento dos casos. E deixa-me supor também que não eras rico no princípio, como acontece nos livros tristes, e que te mordias de inveja por isso, mas que depois quando o ficaste mercê de oportunidades ficaste também a cagar para os pobres que não te acompanharam na corrida de sorte. Hoje prossegues com calma a leitura do teu livro de cenouras apregoando aos burros que a possibilidade de podermos ficar todos ricos não sofre do reumático da impossíbilidade matemática.

  2. pois, não há novidades. novidade são as culturas-ilha, individuais, que nascem para se misturarem na classificação social. são as culturas que misturam fogareiros e sardinhas com canapés de salmão. e o arroto sai fresco.:-)

  3. Muito interessante. É exactamente por isso que temos de ser todos nós (o estado) a promover a partilha de rendimentos. Parece-me evidente que não podemos ter uma sociedade minimamente civilizada baseada na arbitrariedade pessoal de meia dúzia de mais ricos em partilhar ou não os seus rendimentos.

  4. V. KALIMATANOS, acertas em 70 ou 80 por cento dos casos? Não sejas modesto. Aposto que acertas em 357 por centos dos casos. Tu és o maior, o mundo é que anda distraído.
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    Pedro, é precisamente o que faz a democracia: nivela a sociedade por cima.

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