Poor people are quicker than middle-class or rich individuals to recognize the suffering of others and to show compassion, according to a new study.
It included more than 300 young adults who were divided into groups that took part in three experiments designed to assess their levels of empathy and compassion.
The findings challenge previous research that concluded lower-class people are more likely to react with anxiety and hostility when faced with adversity, said the researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.
“These latest results indicate that there’s a culture of compassion and cooperation among lower-class individuals that may be born out of threats to their well-being,” study author and social psychologist Jennifer Stellar said in a university news release.
“It’s not that the upper classes are cold-hearted. They may just not be as adept at recognizing the cues and signals of suffering because they haven’t had to deal with as many obstacles in their lives,” she explained.
The findings, published online Dec. 12 in the journal Emotion, suggest a scientific basis for emotional differences between the rich and poor that are depicted in such Charles Dickens classics as “A Christmas Carol” and “A Tale of Two Cities.”
The results also indicate that people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds may do better in cooperative settings than those who are wealthy.
“Upper-class individuals appear to be more self-focused, they’ve grown up with more freedom and autonomy,” Stellar said. “They may do better in an individualist, competitive environment.”
For more on compassion, go to the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University.