Why the rich don’t care about the poor

This satiric video from the USA is called The Tea Party Made Simple by Ted Rall.

From the New York Times in the USA:

As for Empathy, the Haves Have Not


Published: December 30, 2010

THE GIST The rich don’t get how the other half lives.

THE SOURCE “Social Class, Contextualism, and Empathic Accuracy,” by Michael W. Kraus, Stéphane Côté and Dacher Keltner, Psychological Science.

ARE the upper classes really indifferent to the hopes, fears and miseries of ordinary folk? Or is it that they just don’t understand their less privileged peers?

According to a paper by three psychological researchers — Michael W. Kraus, at the University of California, San Francisco; Stéphane Côté, at the University of Toronto; and Dacher Keltner, the University of California, Berkeley — members of the upper class are less adept at reading emotions.

Research on psychological effects of social status is recent in this country, where the mere mention of class can set off Marxism alarms. “Only in the last seven or eight years have we tried to capture all the nuances of differences between the ways the rich and the poor experience the world psychologically,” Dr. Keltner said. “It’s a really new science.”

The paper, published in October by the Association for Psychological Science, recounts three experiments conducted among students and employees of a large (unidentified) public university, some of whom had graduated from college and others who had not. In American social science, the definition of class is generally based on measures like income, occupational prestige and material wealth. In these experiments, class was determined either by educational level or by self-reported perceptions of family socioeconomic status.

In the first experiment, participants were asked to look at pictures of faces and indicate which emotions were being expressed. The more upper class the judges, the less able they were to accurately identify emotions in others.

In another experiment, upper-class participants had a harder time reading the emotions of strangers during simulated job interviews.

In the third one — an interesting twist of an experiment — people of greater socioeconomic status were asked to compare themselves to the wealthiest, most powerful Americans, thus diminishing their own relative stature. When asked to identify emotions by looking at 36 sets of emoting eyes, they did markedly better than their upper-class peers.

Here’s why: Earlier studies have suggested that those in the lower classes, unable to simply hire others, rely more on neighbors or relatives for things like a ride to work or child care. As a result, the authors propose, they have to develop more effective social skills — ones that will engender good will.

“Upper-class people, in spite of all their advantages, suffer empathy deficits,” Dr. Keltner said. “And there are enormous consequences.” In other words, a high-powered lawyer or chief executive, ill equipped to pick up on more-subtle emotions, doesn’t make for a sympathetic boss.

In an apocryphal but oft-cited exchange, Hemingway supposed the rich to be different only because they had more money. But, as Fitzgerald rather presciently wrote in his story “Rich Boy,” because the wealthy “possess and enjoy early, it does something to them,” surmising, “They are different from you and me.” Score one for Scott.

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