The rich ARE different

Posted: 10 August 2011 in Uncategorized
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We’ve known all along that the rich live differently from the rest of us. Now, we know they look at life differently.

According to Dacher Keltner, coauthor with Michael W. Kraus and Paul K. Piff of “Social Class as Culture: The Convergence of Resources and Rank in the Social Realm,”

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.

Are the rich more selfish or just willfully clueless?

Whatever the answer, the past few years have demonstrated they’re different. The tiny minority at the top have taken more than their share and transferred the costs onto the rest of us. The politicians, meanwhile, have been all too willing to take the handouts from those in charge and to keep things more or less as they’ve been for the past three decades. This means those at the bottom have to rely on themselves and one another to get by. Whatever social contract that once existed has been shredded, with the rich going in one direction and the majority left to their own devices.


  1. […] one of the results of the research project directed by Dacher Keltner, which I wrote about back in 2011. The video above [ht: ke] presents other results of their project on the behavioral effects of […]

  2. […] views of the world. As it turns out, Dacher Keltner (whose research I have discussed before, here and here) has (with coauthor Michael W. Kraus) done just that. And the results are […]

  3. […] on the behavioral effects of inequality, about which I’ve written before (here and here). The latest contribution to this literature was just published in the Journal of Personality and […]

  4. […] that’s exactly what psychologists seem now to be doing. We’ve seen studies of “social class as culture,” “sharing the marbles,” and much […]

  5. […] psychological research on the “pathologies of the rich,” which involves studies of “social class as culture” and “sharing the marbles.” And, of course, there’s the infamous 2013 manslaughter […]

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