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Previous research indicates that lower-class individuals experience elevated negative emotions as compared with their upper-class counterparts. We examine how the environments of lower-class individuals can also promote greater compassionate responding-that is, concern for the suffering or well-being of others. In the present research, we investigate class-based differences in dispositional compassion and its activation in situations wherein others are suffering. Across studies, relative to their upper-class counterparts, lower-class individuals reported elevated dispositional compassion (Study 1), as well as greater self-reported compassion during a compassion-inducing video (Study 2) and for another person during a social interaction (Study 3). Lower-class individuals also exhibited heart rate deceleration-a physiological response associated with orienting to the social environment and engaging with others-during the compassion-inducing video (Study 2). We discuss a potential mechanism of class-based influences on compassion, whereby lower-class individuals' are more attuned to others' distress, relative to their upper-class counterparts.
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Chaotic conditions are a prevalent and threatening feature of social life. Five studies examined whether social class underlies divergent responses to perceptions of chaos in one's social environments and outcomes. The authors hypothesized that when coping with perceptions of chaos, lower class individuals tend to prioritize community, relative to upper class individuals, who instead tend to prioritize material wealth. Consistent with these predictions, when personally confronting chaos, lower class individuals were more communally oriented (Study 1), more connected with their community (Study 2), and more likely to volunteer for a community-building project (Study 3), compared to upper class individuals. In contrast, perceptions of chaos caused upper class individuals to express greater reliance on wealth (Study 4) and prefer financial gain over membership in a close-knit community (Study 5), relative to lower class individuals. These findings suggest that social class shapes how people respond to perceptions of chaos and cope with its threatening consequences.
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Lower social class (or socioeconomic status) is associated with fewer resources, greater exposure to threat, and a reduced sense of personal control. Given these life circumstances, one might expect lower class individuals to engage in less prosocial behavior, prioritizing self-interest over the welfare of others. The authors hypothesized, by contrast, that lower class individuals orient to the welfare of others as a means to adapt to their more hostile environments and that this orientation gives rise to greater prosocial behavior. Across 4 studies, lower class individuals proved to be more generous (Study 1), charitable (Study 2), trusting (Study 3), and helpful (Study 4) compared with their upper class counterparts. Mediator and moderator data showed that lower class individuals acted in a more prosocial fashion because of a greater commitment to egalitarian values and feelings of compassion. Implications for social class, prosocial behavior, and economic inequality are discussed.
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Dozens of studies in different nations have revealed that socioeconomic status only weakly predicts an individual's subjective well-being (SWB). These results imply that although the pursuit of social status is a fundamental human motivation, achieving high status has little impact on one's SWB. However, we propose that sociometric status-the respect and admiration one has in face-to-face groups (e.g., among friends or coworkers)-has a stronger effect on SWB than does socioeconomic status. Using correlational, experimental, and longitudinal methodologies, four studies found consistent evidence for a local-ladder effect: Sociometric status significantly predicted satisfaction with life and the experience of positive and negative emotions. Longitudinally, as sociometric status rose or fell, SWB rose or fell accordingly. Furthermore, these effects were driven by feelings of power and social acceptance. Overall, individuals' sociometric status matters more to their SWB than does their socioeconomic status.
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Consistency in the self-concept across social contexts has been linked to various positive outcomes, including felt authenticity and well-being. Based on theories of social power (e.g., Keltner, Gruenfeld, & Anderson, 2003), we predicted that high-power individuals, disposed to greater control of their environments and freedom of self-expression, would exhibit greater self-concept consistency relative to their low-power counterparts. Across three studies, measured and manipulated high-power participants showed elevated self-concept consistency in terms of greater coherence and consistency in their spontaneous self-descriptions (Studies 1 and 2), and less variability in trait ratings of themselves across different contexts (Study 3), relative to low-power participants. Moreover, high-power participants' tendency to be more consistent in their self-concept explained their higher reports of authenticity relative to low-power participants (Study 3). Discussion focuses on the implications of these findings for health and well-being, and for power differences in other cultural contexts.
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The present studies examined how observers infer moral attributes and beliefs from nonverbal pride displays. Pride is a self-focused positive emotion triggered by appraisals of the self's success, status, and competence. We hypothesized that when a target emits nonverbal cues of pride, he or she will be viewed by observers as higher in self-interest and therefore more likely to endorse ideologies that would benefit the self-specifically, merit-based resource distributions (meritocracy) as opposed to equality-based resource distributions (egalitarianism). Across studies, experimentally manipulated pride displays (Studies 1 and 3) and naturally occurring expressions of pride (Study 4) led observers to infer heightened support for meritocracy as opposed to egalitarianism. Analyses also revealed that people intuitively associate higher self-interest with enhanced support for meritocracy as opposed to egalitarianism (Study 2), and this association mediates the pathway from pride displays to inferences of heightened support for meritocracy and reduced support for egalitarianism (Studies 3 and 4). Across studies, we compare pride to expressions of joy or no emotion and demonstrate these effects using thin slices as well as static images.
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In the present chapter, we advance a reciprocal influence model of social power. Our model is rooted in evolutionist analyses of primate hierarchies, and notions that the capacity for subordinates to form alliances imposes important demands upon those in power, and that power heuristically reduces the likelihood of conflicts within groups. Guided by these assumptions, we posit a set of propositions regarding the reciprocal nature of power, and review recent supporting data. With respect to the acquisition of social power, we show that power is afforded to those individuals and strategic behaviors related to advancing the interests of the group. With respect to constraints upon power, we detail how group‐based representations (a fellow group member's reputation), communication (gossip), and self‐assessments (an individual's modest sense of power) constrain the actions of those in power according to how they advance group interests. Finally, with respect to the notion that power acts as a social interaction heuristic, we examine how social power is readily and accurately perceived by group members and gives priority to the emotions, goals, and actions of high‐power individuals in shaping interdependent action. We conclude with a discussion of recent studies of the subjective sense of power and class‐based ideologies.
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Socioeconomic status (SES) is a primary determinant of health vulnerabilities and social affiliations. To ascertain if SES is signaled in brief patterns of nonverbal behavior, we had participants of varying SES backgrounds engage in a brief interaction with a stranger. Videos of 60-s slices of these interactions were coded for nonverbal cues of disengagement and engagement, and estimates of participants' SES were provided by naive observers who viewed these videos. As predicted by analyses of resource dependence and power, upper-SES participants displayed more disengagement cues (e.g., doodling) and fewer engagement cues (e.g., head nods, laughs) than did lower-SES participants. Results were also consistent with the thin-slicing literature, in that observers' estimates of SES were reliable with each other and accurately predicted targets' family income, maternal education, and subjective SES. Finally, nonverbal displays of disengagement and engagement predicted observers' estimates of SES, which suggests that these cues are systematic signs of SES. These results have implications for understanding the effect of SES on social interactions and patterns of disengagement and engagement in other realms.
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Recent research suggests that lower-class individuals favor explanations of personal and political outcomes that are oriented to features of the external environment. We extended this work by testing the hypothesis that, as a result, individuals of a lower social class are more empathically accurate in judging the emotions of other people. In three studies, lower-class individuals (compared with upper-class individuals) received higher scores on a test of empathic accuracy (Study 1), judged the emotions of an interaction partner more accurately (Study 2), and made more accurate inferences about emotion from static images of muscle movements in the eyes (Study 3). Moreover, the association between social class and empathic accuracy was explained by the tendency for lower-class individuals to explain social events in terms of features of the external environment. The implications of class-based patterns in empathic accuracy for well-being and relationship outcomes are discussed.
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Social class reflects more than the material conditions of people’s lives. Objective resources (e.g., income) shape cultural practices and behaviors that signal social class. These signals create cultural identities among upper- and lower-class individuals—identities that are rooted in subjective perceptions of social-class rank vis-à-vis others. Empirical studies find that perceptions of social-class rank influence patterns of contextual versus dispositional cognition and other- versus self-oriented affect and behavior that are consistent with objective resource-based measures of social class. Our theoretical conceptualization emphasizes the utility of measuring and manipulating perceptions of social-class rank to better understand how social class influences thought and action across diverse social domains.
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Recent evidence suggests that perceptions of social class rank influence a variety of social cognitive tendencies, from patterns of causal attribution to moral judgment. In the present studies we tested the hypotheses that upper-class rank individuals would be more likely to endorse essentialist lay theories of social class categories (i.e., that social class is founded in genetically based, biological differences) than would lower-class rank individuals and that these beliefs would decrease support for restorative justice--which seeks to rehabilitate offenders, rather than punish unlawful action. Across studies, higher social class rank was associated with increased essentialism of social class categories (Studies 1, 2, and 4) and decreased support for restorative justice (Study 4). Moreover, manipulated essentialist beliefs decreased preferences for restorative justice (Study 3), and the association between social class rank and class-based essentialist theories was explained by the tendency to endorse beliefs in a just world (Study 2). Implications for how class-based essentialist beliefs potentially constrain social opportunity and mobility are discussed.
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Lower-class individuals, because of their lower rank in society, are theorized to be more vigilant to social threats relative to their high-ranking upper-class counterparts. This class-related vigilance to threat, the authors predicted, would shape the emotional content of social interactions in systematic ways. In Study 1, participants engaged in a teasing interaction with a close friend. Lower-class participants—measured in terms of social class rank in society and within the friendship—more accurately tracked the hostile emotions of their friend. As a result, lower-class individuals experienced more hostile emotion contagion relative to upper-class participants. In Study 2, lower-class participants manipulated to experience lower subjective socioeconomic rank showed more hostile reactivity to ambiguous social scenarios relative to upper-class participants and to lower-class participants experiencing elevated socioeconomic rank. The results suggest that class affects expectations, perception, and experience of hostile emotion, particularly in situations in which lower-class individuals perceive their subordinate rank.
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Social class is shaped by an individual's material resources as well as perceptions of rank vis-à-vis others in society, and in this article, we examine how class influences behavior. Diminished resources and lower rank create contexts that constrain social outcomes for lower-class individuals and enhance contextualist tendencies--that is, a focus on external, uncontrollable social forces and other individuals who influence one's life outcomes. In contrast, abundant resources and elevated rank create contexts that enhance the personal freedoms of upper-class individuals and give rise to solipsistic social cognitive tendencies--that is, an individualistic focus on one's own internal states, goals, motivations, and emotions. Guided by this framework, we detail 9 hypotheses and relevant empirical evidence concerning how class-based contextualist and solipsistic tendencies shape the self, perceptions of the social environment, and relationships to other individuals. Novel predictions and implications for research in other socio-political contexts are considered.
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Power increases the tendency to behave in a goal-congruent fashion. Guided by this theoretical notion, we hypothesized that elevated power would strengthen the positive association between prosocial orientation and empathic accuracy. In 3 studies with university and adult samples, prosocial orientation was more strongly associated with empathic accuracy when distinct forms of power were high than when power was low. In Study 1, a physiological indicator of prosocial orientation, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, exhibited a stronger positive association with empathic accuracy in a face-to-face interaction among dispositionally high-power individuals. In Study 2, experimentally induced prosocial orientation increased the ability to accurately judge the emotions of a stranger but only for individuals induced to feel powerful. In Study 3, a trait measure of prosocial orientation was more strongly related to scores on a standard test of empathic accuracy among employees who occupied high-power positions within an organization. Study 3 further showed a mediated relationship between prosocial orientation and career satisfaction through empathic accuracy among employees in high-power positions but not among employees in lower power positions. Discussion concentrates upon the implications of these findings for studies of prosociality, power, and social behavior.
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Tactile communication, or physical touch, promotes cooperation between people, communicates distinct emotions, soothes in times of stress, and is used to make inferences of warmth and trust. Based on this conceptual analysis, we predicted that in group competition, physical touch would predict increases in both individual and group performance. In an ethological study, we coded the touch behavior of players from the National Basketball Association (NBA) during the 2008-2009 regular season. Consistent with hypotheses, early season touch predicted greater performance for individuals as well as teams later in the season. Additional analyses confirmed that touch predicted improved performance even after accounting for player status, preseason expectations, and early season performance. Moreover, coded cooperative behaviors between teammates explained the association between touch and team performance. Discussion focused on the contributions touch makes to cooperative groups and the potential implications for other group settings.
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