Poor are better at empathy than the rich: study

New Delhi: It`s said that money can`t buy you happiness, now a new study finds that it neither buys you empathy or at least the ability to convey it.

In multiple experiments, researchers at the University of California (UC) found that people of high socioeconomic status were worse at judging other people`s emotions than those of low socioeconomic status.

The reason why the poor are better at empathy than the wealthy may be that they have to be more responsive to others to get by, said study author Michael Kraus, a UC postdoctoral researcher in psychology.

"You can see how being empathic provides a better ability to respond to social threats. It also gives you an opportunity to respond to social opportunities," Kraus told LiveScience.

Kraus` earlier research has found that the rich are ruder than poor in conversations with strangers. They`ve also found that the poor are more generous with their wealth than the rich. Their greater empathy could be the root of that charity, Kraus said.

"They`re vigilant of other people`s need, and they respond when they see it," he said.

For their study, published in the journal Psychological Science, the researchers conducted three experiments to tease out the empathy gap between rich and poor.

In the first, they focused on the educational aspect of socioeconomic status (SES), for which they recruited 200 university employees, ranging from office support personnel to educators to managers.

They then collected data on the volunteers` educational attainment and asked them to identify facial expressions in a series of photographs.

Those who completed only a high-school education scored an average of 7 per cent higher than those with a college education.

Next, the researchers had 106 students interact with one another in fake job interviews. They were asked to rate their own emotions and the emotions of their partners during the interview.

Those who reported being higher on the socioeconomic ladder scored worse at accurately guessing their partners` emotions.

"It was across gender, across ethnic backgrounds," Kraus said. "You really see lower-class individuals showing this
greater empathic accuracy in the study."

Finally, the 81 students looked at 36 close-up photographs of eyes and judged the emotions portrayed in the pictures. Sure enough, those manipulated into seeing themselves as lower-class scored 6 per cent better than those manipulated into perceiving themselves as well-off.

That was a critical finding, Kraus said.

"If you manipulate, then you can talk about class leading to empathy."