More Money, Less Empathy

It makes perfect sense. You or someone very close to you must experience something before you can feel empathy.

How can that be changed? I don’t think it can. What’s your perspective?

Amplify’d from

Looking for empathy and support? You’re more likely to get it from a poor person than you are from a rich one, according to new research published in Psychological Science.

Why might that be? “Lower-class environments are much different from upper-class environments,” explains Kraus. “Lower-class individuals have to respond chronically to a number of vulnerabilities and social threats. You really need to depend on others so they will tell you if a social threat or opportunity is coming and that makes you more perceptive of emotions.”


An earlier study by the same researchers found that those of lower socioeconomic status were also more helpful and generous, suggesting that it’s not just empathic accuracy but empathy itself that may be enhanced by circumstance. “Coming from an environment where you’re more vulnerable, you solve problems by turning to others,” says Kraus. That increases empathy and strengthens social bonds.


This measure of empathic accuracy — “a person’s ability to accurately read emotions that other people are feeling,” says Kraus — is important because it is a key part of empathy itself: if you can’t recognize what someone else is going through, it’s hard to respond with kindness to their needs.

The influence of power could also be the reason that some studies find a gender difference in empathetic accuracy favoring women: they frequently have less power than men. “There are likely to be many determinants” of the gender difference, says Keltner. “One is that having lower power status makes women more attuned. Another may be that they more systematically take on caregiving roles. A third may be basic biology. If women do indeed have higher levels of the [bonding chemical] oxytocin and we know that oxytocin promotes empathy, that may be involved.”

In an economy that puts more and more people at risk of falling out of the middle or upper classes, the reduction in empathy seen in the upper classes is troubling. (More on House M.D. Watch: Is Faith a Mental Illness?)

The good news for those stuck on the bottom, however, is that the people around them may be nicer.




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