Study finds people with this level of income struggle at this skill

Just ahead of projected economic downturn, class divisions are at the forefront of discussion.

A new paper published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin locates some of these distinctions among emotional intelligence–particularly with respect to “Theory of Mind” (ToM: an individual’s ability to infer and use “information about others’ mental states”).

Over the course of several experiments, the researchers provided evidence to support the theory that certain individuals with higher-income levels are worse at interpreting the emotional state of others.

In the first two experiments, the wealthy participants performed more poorly than lower-class participants on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test, which requires individuals to gauge the emotional states of targets based on images of their eyes.

In the third and fourth experiments, wealthy participants made more errors than their lower-class counterparts in the Director Task, which has participants interpret the visual perspective of a target.

“My co-author and I set out to examine a question that we deemed important given the trend of rising economic inequality in American society today: How does access to resources (e.g., money, education) influence the way we process information about other human beings?” study author Pia Dietze, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Irvine explained in Psypost.

“We tried to answer this question by examining two essential components within the human repertoire to understand each other’s minds: the way in which we read emotional states from other people’s faces and how inclined we are to take the visual perspective of another person.”

Can social class predict emotional perception?

The new paper was co-authored by Dietze and Eric D. Knowles and was titled Social Class Predicts Emotion Perception and Perspective-Taking Performance in Adults.

For the first leg of the analysis, the researchers employed 300 U.S. individuals that participated in Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform.

To verify results, the authors recruited 452 U.S. individuals from the Prolific Academic platform.

“Potential mechanisms linking social class to performance in different ToM domains, as well as implications for deficiency-centered perspectives on low social class, are discussed,” the authors said of the mechanisms in the new paper.

As stated previously, higher-class individuals were outperformed in areas of emotional intelligence by lower-class individuals.

A followup inclusion of 138 undergraduates enrolled at New York University confirmed as much.

“We find that individuals from lower social class backgrounds are better at identifying emotions from other people’s faces and are more likely to spontaneously take another person’s visual perspective. This is in line with a large body of work documenting a tendency for lower-class people to be more socially attuned to others. In addition, our research shows that this can happen at a very basic level; within seconds or milliseconds of encountering a new face or person,” Dietze continued in a release.

It is important to note that all of the data derived from the series of studies included in the new paper featured relatively small study groups.

The authors intend on recruiting larger study pools in order to more squarely define the mechanisms that energized results.

“We theorize that social class can influence social information processing (i.e., the processing of information about other people) at such a basic level because social classes can be conceptualized as a form of culture. As such, social class cultures (like other forms of culture, for example, national cultures), have a pervasive psychological influence that impact many aspects of life, at times even at spontaneous levels,” the authors concluded.