If you think wealthy people are wiser, think again.
Members of the US working class are wiser and better at both reasoning and handling conflict than people from higher social classes, according to a study published by the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.
A team of researchers from the Department of Psychology at the University of Waterloo, Canada conducted two studies.
The first one was an online survey of 2,145 people from US regions differing in economic affluence.
The second was a study of 299 members of the middle class, conducted in-lab, with prepared scenarios.
They published their findings in the Royal Society Journals.
The study compared how members of different backgrounds – high, middle and working class – reacted when faced with conflict scenarios, such as arguments with a coworker, a family member, a friend or a spouse. The researchers evaluated the participants' reactions and how good they were at "wise reasoning". It means they were able to show "intellectual humility, recognition that the world is subject to flux and changes, and the ability to take different contexts into account beside one's own", as well as the ability to compromise.
Contrary to what had been previously assumed, they found that people from the working class are systematically better at being wise and reaching compromise than higher social classes. Furthermore, they found members of higher social classes have more difficulties being agreeable, open to new experiences and considerate of other people's feelings. The same people tended to be more individualistic than people of lower social standing.
"The North American, as well as European, culture have become substantially more self-centred over the course of the last 50 years," Dr Igor Grossmann, who led the research, told IBTimesUK.
Scientists believe a wealthy social environment promote self-focus rather than interactions with others. Several previous research indicate that higher social classes interact less with people and are less sensitive to socio-emotional cues.
Higher social classes were more likely to "make decisions that ignore the rights or fairness to a few," says Grossmann. "Higher class individuals [are] more likely to break the law while driving, lie in negotiations, cheat, and endorse unethical behavior at work," he adds.
However, members of the working class were better at putting themselves in other people's shoes, and "appreciated a context broader than the immediate situation they were in."
The study points out that many theories based on abstract evidence suggested that the lack of resources offered to the working class meant the working class was bad at reasoning. But this research found that that lack of resources is responsible for the exact opposite: "Uncertainty and more resource-scare life circumstances encourage more attention to context and other interpersonal information, focus on relationships and cooperation with people in one's close circle," Grossmann explains.
The study highlights that the type of social class we are raised in and with which we surround ourselves has a direct impact on how we go about certain scenarios in our adult life.
According to the research, it is more difficult for all social classes to resolve an argument with someone from a different social ranking.
It also highlights the effect of generational gaps within social classes themselves. For instance, younger members of high social classes will be even worse at applying wise reasoning to an argument with a coworker or friend than their parents were. "The current middle-upper middle class youth in the US, Canada, and Western Europe is substantially more likely to think of themselves as unique, entitled, and individualist in their values," says Grossmann.
However, Grossmann warns that the definition of wise reasoning and social class can take different meanings of social class between Europe and the US.