Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Charles Dickens was right: Poor people care more for others

Don't take my word for it. U.S News and World Report quotes the journal Emotion, which published last month its findings that "the more affluent face fewer obstacles" and are "slower to recognize the suffering of others" than people with fewer resources. More than that, poor people are quicker to act on their empathy -- to show compassion for their fellow sufferers.

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.

Might this help to explain why poor South Carolinians care enough about the education of their children, and the children of other poor South Carolinians, that they consistently vote to raise their own property taxes to pay for improved schools, programs and services, while wealthy South Carolinians in the legislature are content to underfund the Education Finance Act year after year?


"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."

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