Rich people are more likely going to be less empathetic than poor people are.

Its often alleged that men come from Mars and women come from Venus; but when it comes to life experiences, it seems the rich and the poor are from different galaxies altogether. And how people view their world partly depends on who they are. According to research, your sense of empathy towards others is somehow shaped by your social status.

Related media: The Importance Of Empathy

The Haves Vs The Have Nots

In a 2015 study published in the Journal Culture and Brain by a team of researchers led by neuroscientist Michael Varnum of Arizona State University, surveyed 58 participants and asked about their (you guessed it) social class — including that of their parents’ schooling, their income, and their perception of their own social status. They later asked the participants to complete a questionnaire that assessed their sense of empathy.

Then, they were caped with an electroencephalogram (EEG) cap that measured their brain waves and a series of pained and neutral faces. The participants of high socioeconomic status rated themselves as more empathetic; this made Varnum skeptic about the study. So he led another whole new study on the phenomenon, and found that the EEG didn’t lie. The higher the subject’s status, the less their brain reacted to the pained expressions.

According to the study, “these findings suggest that empathy, at least some early component of it, is reduced among those who are higher in status.”

Wealthy In Status, Poor In Empathy

Young woman talking with psychologist
Image: Shutterstock / iStock / Getty Images Plus | Young woman talking with psychologist about her problems

In another study Varnum published in 2016, it honed in on the socioeconomic differences with mirror neurons — the ones that seem to stimulate the actions of others. They found something similar: those of lower socioeconomic status had more activity in their mirror neurons when they saw people do something.

Yet another study from New York University, researchers found that high-class people had a shorter social gaze  the amount of time they look at the people around them — whenever they saw people walk around a city block. So why would the rich have less empathy for others than the poor?

According to The Science Of Us, “It may be that growing up poorer means that you have to rely on others more; it may also mean that you live in a less-secure environment, so you need to attend to others to keep yourself safe.”

The Lack Of Social Virtue

In contrast, being rich provides you a sort of privacy and independence. Those who aren’t wealthy spend more time in public places like transit stations, standing in line for necessities, and doing stuff that place them in the midst of all manner of people. Such a life spent around others require good skills in social interaction; and thus you might tend to grow more empathy.

“The rich go out there and try to make themselves happy. They don’t try to pretend to save the world,” says Steve Siebold, self-made millionaire and the author of How Rich People Think, in an interview with Business Insider. “If you’re not taking care of you, you’re not in a position to help anyone else. You can’t give what you don’t have.”

He considers this lack of external focus a virtue.

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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Thu, Jul 31, 2019.


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