Rose-Colored Glasses

If you’re rich, how do you see the world?

The great thing about studies is that for the most part, they generally prove that everything you thought about the world is correct. People who have more money apparently see the world much differently than those that have less.

The Science of Us took a look at a few recent studies that examine how class informs our view of the world around us. In the first study, subjects were first asked to fill out a survey about their social class and then were asked to look at different faces — some which were neutral and some which were clearly in pain.

In the brain-imaging task, participants were shown neutral and pained faces while they were told to look for something else (the faces were a “distractor,” in the psych argot, so hopefully the participants wouldn’t know they were being tested for empathy).
In something of a dark irony, the respondents of higher socioeconomic status rated themselves as more empathic — a “better-than-average effect” that Varnum followed up on in a separate study — when in reality the opposite was true. The results “show that people who are higher in socioeconomic status have diminished neural responses to others’ pain,” the authors write. “These findings suggest that empathy, at least some early component of it, is reduced among those who are higher in status.”

Science, that tricky beast, confirms what you’ve always suspected to be true — that those who self-sort themselves into a higher socioeconomic class are actually less attuned to the suffering of others. The second study they looked at addresses what we notice about our environment and what that says about the way we were raised and how it might influence our perception.

In the first, they stopped 61 people on New York City streets, and asked them to put on a Google Glass device and walk around one block for about a minute, looking at whatever captured their gaze — with higher-class participants having reliably shorter gazes. In a second experiment, a total of 158 undergrads were recruited to look at 41 photographs of different cities. Here, working-class participants had a 25 percent longer dwell time, on average, than upper-middle-class peers. In a third experiment, almost 400 participants recruited online had to determine if icons depicting people or objects changed in the course of milliseconds — and consistent with the other results, working-class people were faster in catching changes in faces than upper-middle-class participants.

This, for me, is the most interesting, as it corroborates the generally-held notion that the more money you have, the less you pay attention things in your environment because honestly, you might not have to. Money eases friction. It smooths things over. When you’re up, you’re up. Protecting the money that you have and looking for ways to get more of it means that there’s less time to worry about the little things. You have the money. You’re not worried. It’s all good.

The study’s authors posit that those with less pay closer attention to their surroundings because living with less is akin to being on constant alert. Danger lurks around every corner, in the form of a bill you need to pay that you can’t afford or the heat not working. Something will need fixing; something is surely broken. All of that costs money.

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