Are Rich People Ruder?

Image credit: 

At first blush, it sounds like one of those stereotypes that's easy to disprove: the Grey-Poupon crowd gets a bad rap not because they actually look down their noses at the rest of us, but because we feel like they do, right? Well, not according to a new study from psychologists at UC Berkeley, who found that there may be a sets of nonverbal cues used in conversation which wealthy people use differently than their economic subordinates.

The study paired off participants and told them to conduct job-interview-style interviews of one another. They were videotaped, and researchers combed through the tapes counting the number of "engagement cues" displayed by each interviewer. (These include behaviors like nodding encouragingly, looking interested, laughing politely at appropriate moments, etc, when another person is talking.) They also looked for disengagement cues (AKA "rudeness") like avoiding eye contact, fidgeting, interrupting and checking one's watch. Tallying the results, the study found overwhelmingly that socioeconomic status profoundly affects the way people engage with others: perhaps not surprisingly, a significantly higher percentage of wealthy participants exhibited disengagement cues, whereas less-wealthy participants were more likely to engage.

The researchers draw a simple, almost Darwinian conclusion: the wealthy don't engage as readily as the less-wealthy because they have less to gain from being liked. Another way of expressing this: the wealthy and powerful are less dependent on others, so if they act a bit like they could take you or leave you, it's because, well, they could.

Of course, this isn't universally true of everyone, and I'm sure all of us know people who cut against the grain of this study's finding (or at least seem to). But I'm interested -- overall, do you find the study's results to be true? Do we engage differently depending on our socioeconomic status?

Story via Scientific American.

February 11, 2009 - 2:17am
submit to reddit