Warner Bros.

Rich People Least Likely To Be Empathetic


Do you sometimes sense your success is why you don't have many friends? Science says you may be right.

This isn't to say living with privilege doesn't have its perks: Think luxury vacations, designer clothes and no fear of where your next dollar is coming from.

But it turns out privilege can affect you in more ways then you realize... namely, the way you interact with other people.

There have been several studies that suggest the way rich people view life is entirely different from the way people of lower socioeconomic statuses do.

The most effective study was first performed in 2015 by Michael Varnum, a neuroscientist at Arizona State University.

He tested 58 participants by making them look at a series of pictures of people with neutral or sad expressions on their faces. Because the participants weren't allowed to know they were being tested for empathy, they didn't have to determine whether the faces were in pain or not. Instead, they had to focus on other factors in each picture, like hair.

After this response, the participants had to answer questionnaires about their level of empathy. Ironically, the richer participants rated themselves higher on the empathy scale than those of other economic backgrounds.

But the brain image results proved otherwise.

The researchers followed up with a second study in 2016, in which they found lower class people to have a more responsive mirror neuron system. The mirror neuron system is what helps you literally "mirror" other people's behavior, and is said to be a key predictor of empathy.

For example, your friend crying about her ex-boyfriend might cause you to cry too, if you have a very sensitive mirror neuron.

This indicates people who are of lower socioeconomic status are more receptive to other people's behavior and moods... and this makes them more empathetic toward others. They can feel what the other person is feeling and put themselves in another person's shoes.

What does this mean in short? Well, basically, rich people are more selfish.

In the 2010 book "How Rich People Think," author Steve Siebold interviewed over 1,200 of the wealthiest people in the entire world. He explained rich people actually view selfishness as an honor, and think it will help them achieve their goals. They think by putting themselves first, they're doing themselves a favor.

Rich people, therefore, aren't as attuned to other people, in terms of facial expressions or the way they react. They're kind of oblivious and find it hard to read other people's emotions.

Varnum told New York Magazine the findings seem to indicate richer people concentrate more on their own goals and desires, rather than other people's. They ignore other people more because they can afford to.

He said,

In fact, a survey done in 2014 revealed rich people actually don't care about the interests of the lower middle class. The questionnaire – done by political scientists Benjamin Page, Jason Seawright and Larry Bartels – found the 1 percent actually were against most issues that would benefit the middle class.

Of the people surveyed, 40 percent wanted to increase minimum wage. Only 32 percent were pro-universal health insurance, and a mere 8 percent backed government programs for unemployed people.

In comparison, Donald Trump's presidential campaign relied on reducing taxes, removing immigrants to get jobs "back to Americans" and a repeal of Obamacare.

So, could this research actually help explain the recent election results? It's possible.

Citations: Rich People Literally See the World Differently (New York Magazine)