Psychologist and social scientist Dacher Keltner says that the life experiences of rich people make them less empathetic, less altruistic and generally more selfish.
"We have now done 12 separate studies measuring empathy in every way imaginable, social behavior in every way and some work on compassion, and it's the same story," he said. "Lower-class people just show more empathy, more pro-social behavior, more compassion, no matter how you look at it."
Keltner and co-authors of the article "Social Class as Culture: The Convergence of Resources and Rank in the Social Realm," published this week in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, point to Keltner's own research and the existing literature to make the point. For example:
Lower class subjects are better at deciphering the emotions of people in photographs than are rich people.
In video recordings of conversations, rich people are more likely to appear distracted, checking cell phones, doodling, avoiding eye contact.
Keltner has also studied vagus nerve activation. The vagus nerve helps the brain record and respond to emotional inputs. When subjects are exposed to pictures of starving children, for example, their vagus nerve typically becomes more active as measured by electrodes on their chests and a sensor band around their waists. In recent tests, yet to be published, Keltner has found that those from lower-class backgrounds have more intense activation.
Even worse, Ketler blames today's battles over economics, taxes, debt ceilings and defaults partly on an upper-class "ideology of self-interest." If the author is really on to something, these findings are bad news for people with big bank accounts (if they care, that is).
Read more at MSNBC.
In other news: First Black Secret Service Special Agent Dies.