Class status really does color our perceptions of others.
It even colors whether or not we even perceive others, according to some fascinating new research.
The findings offer a clue to the impacts of the sharply widening class divisions in a world where neoliberalism has become the dominant political paradigm, a model backed by the wealthy in which the needs of others are simply ignored in order to justify the concentration of wealth.
From the Association for Psychological Science:
The degree to which other people divert your attention may depend on your social class, according to new findings published in Psychological Science [$35 to access], a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
The research shows that people who categorize themselves as being in a relatively high social class spend less time looking at passersby compared with those who aren’t as well off, a difference that seems to stem from spontaneous processes related to perception and attention.
“Across field, lab, and online studies, our research documents that other humans are more likely to capture the attention of lower-class individuals than the attention of higher-class individuals,” says psychological scientist Pia Dietze of New York University. “Like other cultural groups, social class affects information processing in a pervasive and spontaneous manner.”
Previous studies have shown a variety of behavioral differences among people of various social classes — including levels of compassion, interpersonal engagement, charity, ethicality, and empathy toward others. Dietze and co-author Eric Knowles wondered whether these discrepancies might stem, at least in part, from deep, culturally ingrained differences in the way people process information.
The researchers hypothesized that our social class affects how relevant others are to us in terms of our own goals and motivations. Compared with people who come from less-advantaged circumstances, people from relatively privileged backgrounds are likely to be less dependent on others socially; as such, they are less likely to view other people as potentially rewarding, threatening, or otherwise worth paying attention. Importantly, Dietze and Knowles posited that this difference in what they call “motivational relevance” is so fundamental that it manifests in basic cognitive processes — like visual attention — that operate quickly and involuntarily.