Sunday, October 06, 2013

Wealth Gap : Empathy Gap?

(A great article about some potential implications from the wealth gap)


Turning a blind eye. Giving someone the cold shoulder. Looking down on people. Seeing right through them.
These metaphors for condescending or dismissive behavior are more than just descriptive. They suggest, to a surprisingly accurate extent, the social distance between those with greater power and those with less — a distance that goes beyond the realm of interpersonal interactions and may exacerbate the soaring inequality in the United States.
A growing body of recent research shows that people with the most social power pay scant attention to those with little such power. This tuning out has been observed, for instance, with strangers in a mere five-minute get-acquainted session, where the more powerful person shows fewer signals of paying attention, like nodding or laughing. Higher-status people are also more likely to express disregard, through facial expressions, and are more likely to take over the conversation and interrupt or look past the other speaker.
Bringing the micropolitics of interpersonal attention to the understanding of social power, researchers are suggesting, has implications for public policy.
Of course, in any society, social power is relative; any of us may be higher or lower in a given interaction, and the research shows the effect still prevails. Though the more powerful pay less attention to us than we do to them, in other situations we are relatively higher on the totem pole of status — and we, too, tend to pay less attention to those a rung or two down.
A prerequisite to empathy is simply paying attention to the person in pain. In 2008, social psychologists from the University of Amsterdam and the University of California, Berkeley, studied pairs of strangers telling one another about difficulties they had been through, like a divorce or death of a loved one. The researchers found that the differential expressed itself in the playing down of suffering. The more powerful were less compassionate toward the hardships described by the less powerful.
Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at Berkeley, and Michael W. Kraus, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, have done much of the research on social power and the attention deficit.
Mr. Keltner suggests that, in general, we focus the most on those we value most. While the wealthy can hire help, those with few material assets are more likely to value their social assets: like the neighbor who will keep an eye on your child from the time she gets home from school until the time you get home from work. The financial difference ends up creating a behavioral difference. Poor people are better attuned to interpersonal relations — with those of the same strata, and the more powerful — than the rich are, because they have to be.
While Mr. Keltner’s research finds that the poor, compared with the wealthy, have keenly attuned interpersonal attention in all directions, in general, those with the most power in society seem to pay particularly little attention to those with the least power. To be sure, high-status people do attend to those of equal rank — but not as well as those low of status do.
This has profound implications for societal behavior and government policy. Tuning in to the needs and feelings of another person is a prerequisite to empathy, which in turn can lead to understanding, concern and, if the circumstances are right, compassionate action.
In politics, readily dismissing inconvenient people can easily extend to dismissing inconvenient truths about them. The insistence by some House Republicans in Congress on cutting financing for food stamps and impeding the implementation of Obamacare, which would allow patients, including those with pre-existing health conditions, to obtain and pay for insurance coverage, may stem in part from the empathy gap. As political scientists have noted, redistricting and gerrymandering have led to the creation of more and more safe districts, in which elected officials don’t even have to encounter many voters from the rival party, much less empathize with them.
Social distance makes it all the easier to focus on small differences between groups and to put a negative spin on the ways of others and a positive spin on our own.
Freud called this “the narcissism of minor differences,” a theme repeated by Vamik D. Volkan, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at the University of Virginia, who was born in Cyprus to Turkish parents. Dr. Volkan remembers hearing as a small boy awful things about the hated Greek Cypriots — who, he points out, actually share many similarities with Turkish Cypriots. Yet for decades their modest-size island has been politically divided, which exacerbates the problem by letting prejudicial myths flourish.
In contrast, extensive interpersonal contact counteracts biases by letting people from hostile groups get to know one another as individuals and even friends. Thomas F. Pettigrew, a research professor of social psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, analyzed more than 500 studies on intergroup contact. Mr. Pettigrew, who was born in Virginia in 1931 and lived there until going to Harvard for graduate school, told me in an e-mail that it was the “the rampant racism in the Virginia of my childhood” that led him to study prejudice.
In his research, he found that even in areas where ethnic groups were in conflict and viewed one another through lenses of negative stereotypes, individuals who had close friends within the other group exhibited little or no such prejudice. They seemed to realize the many ways those demonized “others” were “just like me.” Whether such friendly social contact would overcome the divide between those with more and less social and economic power was not studied, but I suspect it would help.
Since the 1970s, the gap between the rich and everyone else has skyrocketed. Income inequality is at its highest level in a century. This widening gulf between the haves and have-less troubles me, but not for the obvious reasons. Apart from the financial inequities, I fear the expansion of an entirely different gap, caused by the inability to see oneself in a less advantaged person’s shoes. Reducing the economic gap may be impossible without also addressing the gap in empathy.

Daniel Goleman, a psychologist, is the author of “Emotional Intelligence” and, most recently, “Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence.”

19 comments:

Tiffany Pabon said...

This article examines the gap between people of different classes. In the article there is a photo of a man passing by someone who seems to be homeless and not stopping. This illustrates that most people who feel they are higher in status pay less attention to someone who is lower in status to them. Some people believe that they should not pay attention or associate with them because that person is different and not the type of person they are used to. This is something that is learned and viewed though most people in our society unfortunately. This leads me to the term mentioned in the article "empathy gap." Empathy gap results in those who are higher in status and with more power to judge others behaviors through only your own eyes. For example Congress members voting to eradicate programs for low income citizens. I definitely do believe that the U.S. has a wealthy gap that is closely related with the empathy gap all due to the lack in equality of distribution.

Anthony Rocco said...

This is a very good article about the wealth gap. It starts off by saying that the rich don't listen to the poor or people below them as well as the poor and middle class listen to rich people. The article has a very perfect picture, there is a poor man sitting outside and the other person is just walking right past him, it is a very realistic photo. I have done that same situation while walking through the city. The article also shows the rich people show less empathy and compassion towards classes below them. I think its because they feel like they are on top and people owe them favors. The "empathy gap" has a lot to do with all the upper-class peoples behaviors, because it makes the upper class people judge others behaviors only through there own eyes, so pretty much it's their opinion of something and everyone else's opinion is wrong.

Mary O'Shea said...

This article illustrates the wealth gap in different social classes. It describes how wealthier people believe that they are more superior than any other social class, and make this evident in their facial expressions, and how they overall treat people whom are not as well off as they are. For example, the picture in the article demonstrates how the wealthier man is showing no empathy to the poor man begging for money on the side of the road. The article describes this as an "empathy gap." It also states that it would be impossible to reduce the economic gap without also addressing this gap in empathy. I found this article extremely insiteful into the realities of our humanity. I do not believe in "taking from the rich to give to the poor," because if poor people wanted to make money, there are means and ways. Some rich people are born into money, but others aquire their wealth through hard work and determination. However, treating people as if they are not as good as you, or having little empathy for people of a lesser stature I do not agree with. Compassion and empathy should be shown to people of all classes, and to show anything less is judgemental and cruel.

Ashleen Ulysse said...

I agree completely with the article in respects to never being able to fix the wealth gap if the gap in empathy is not too addressed. It is simple, why would you fix something you don't care about? Answer: you don't, you leave it the way it is because it is of no value or importance to you. This is exactly what is happening in our society today. The rich is getting richer while the poor is staying poor or getting poorer because the rich have no empathy for the poor. The article makes a good arguement on why empathy is so important. We have to start being more open to the other and when we do, like the article states, we'll all see "we're just like the rest". Maybe then the wealth gap could be addressed.

Dominic Gomez said...

The article raises an interesting point. One would think that in this day and age with the internet, television network, people would be more aware, and therefore more sympathetic to other's people problem. You would think that people, espescially the ones at the very top, would realize how a lot of people are not as fortunate as they are, and that they would be willing to help. The fact of the matter is that people try to turn a blind eye to other's people problems when they can. And the ones who can do that are the ones that are the furthest away from real problems- the rich people. The people have the top have never had real problems, so they do not know what it is like, and therefore, they do not show compassion to people who have them. The fact is that wealth and empathy are inversely related: people who have a lot of one do not have a lot of the other. As the wealthy people become wealthier, their empathy will only decrease.

Alexa Piccoli said...

This article is an important one in the analysis of the ever growing wealth gap. Empathy is a hard trait to come by in many people let alone ones with higher economic standing or class. The people I believe that would have to most empathy are ones that work for non-profits, not people in big business that are making up the higher end of the economic wealth gap. The article suggests that to fix this economic gap we may have to fix the empathy gap as well. To some extent I agree, but I also believe that if you want to be successful, you can and will be. People with high economic standings will not get more empatetic, but less so as they climb the economic ladder. I believe people should be more empathetic towards one another because in the end we are all people but many people do not view the world this way, and thats why there are social classes and certain decisions that are made from people higher up on the economic scale. Empathy and economic weatlh are correlated but they are not causations of one another.

Colby Stover said...

This was a very interesting article concerning the gap between people of different class. Those with more power, the rich, seem to pay less attention to those with little power, the poor. This may be because the person with more money/power feels as if they're better than everyone else. This is shown in the article when it describes a low class person talking to someone of high class. The person in the higher class is just going to nod their head and not really listen to what they have to say since they feel superior to the person of low class. Financial difference also can lead to different behavior. Someone of lower class will be more grateful if someone watched their kid while they were gone than someone of high class. The gap between the rich and the poor is continuing to grow through the years. If this continues, it will affect the economy because it causes a shrink in the middle class. Overall, the idea of people changing their behavior based on class difference can be applied to the gap between the rich and the poor.

Kristoff Kolodko said...

I found this article very interesting and i have to agree with it. I believe that as a persons income or wealth increases then some of those people will think that they are better then the others. Though this isn't true for everyone but in a lot of cases its true. I think that the gap between the wealth and poor in this country is increasing and that the rich only care about themselves and nobody else. They have no empathy on how the gap is increasing and they will not do anything about it.

Nicholas Beato said...

The article made some fair points regarding the gap between the different classes. The article had stated some facts the I had already know about how the rich pay less attention to the poor. Although I do agree with Doctor Keltner when he says that we only focus on what we most value. We as people value only certain things and if it involves something we don't care about then we wont focus on it. After reading that our century's income inequality was at its highest ever I was in shock. I had not realized that the gap between the rich and the poor was so large. I believe we should pay attention to the increasing gap before its too late. Its interesting to know that people in congress are trying to cut down on food stamps and stop Obamacare without taking in effect the empathy gap. Its makes sense that the rich would continue to get richer while the gap between the rich and poor increases. I believe the if the necessary measures aren't put into place to add empathy in the economy, then the economic gap will suffer and continue to increase.

Maria Biondi said...

I agree with this article and it's opinion about the increasingly large gap between the wealthy and the "everyone else". This article first uses an example which I think nicely helps portray the economic aspect of this wealth gap that is happening in the country. Wealthier people tend to only really care about themselves and don't really need friends like the middle class or poor. They use an example as to how a middle class person would want to be friendly with their neighbor so they could watch their kid if they come home late from work. Yet, a wealthier person wouldn't need this safety net because they could just hire help.The economic aspect to this is that the rich see themselves at the top and don't feel the need to interact with people who have less than them which isn't right at all. In my opinion this economic gap needs to be decreased because it's getting to a point where the really wealthy can't even put themselves in the shoes of a less fortunate person's place.

Anthony Caronia said...

It's almost impossible to ignore a noticable difference in privilege or wealth between people. The fact that social status is relevant to developing interpersonal relations is actually sort of disgusting. People are people - race, wealth and social distance shouldn't stop one from being respectful to another. Finally, although Goleman writes an entirely one sided argument, it's hard for me to disagree with it. While he makes it easy to identify with the have-less side of the social gap, the interactions illustrated in this article are certainly reflective of some of my personal interactions.

Christina Sassone said...

I agree that over the past few years the gap between the privileged and non-privileged. I agree with the author when they said we only focus on the things we value the most. We tend to forget about what other don't have and we honor what we have compared to others. I think this gap is growing due to difference in taste or preference. I believe that the privilege being able to afford more has some impact but in reality they have become used to the places or things they buy. The non privilege have also become used to not having what they want at hand. This causes a difference in attitude and interaction. I believe this is the main reason why the gap is growing and why interaction between social classes has become rare.

Joanna Pizzurro said...

The article raises valid points about interpersonal relationships and how we form close bonds with people of the same stature. Although this is correct, it is only human nature to adapt to the people that we are more similar with. The wealth gap has become a more visible issue over the past years. People use the empathy gap as a reason to keep Obamacare or food stamps, which is understandable if you can relate to not having health insurance or money for food. Yes, there are some rich people who pay less attention to the poor, but i also believe that they don't need to pay as much attention to them as America wants them too. Anybody has the freedom and opportunity to work their way up and become successful. Whether you use those resources or not is your choice. As i stated before, it is only human nature to go by what is natural to you. In the end, people are only going to care about things that effect them.

Matthew Ramos said...

As a society, people have grown further apart when they should have been growing closer together. I truly believe that no human being is superior to any other human being. Everyone has their talents, and something to offer society. It is ignorant to think that just because someone has more wealth than another person, that they are better than that person. I think we forget what the dollar actually is, a piece of paper that we assign value to. However, not everyone assigns the same amount of value to this material object. Of course, there have been wars started over money, which would indicate its importance to a degree. But, what about the many lower middle class families around the world that are grateful just to be able to maintain. In my opinion you could be a multi-billionaire, but if you are a negative person that is ungrateful, than you are poor. On the other hand, you could be a person with very little money, but if you are gratefully content with the little you do have, and if you are a positive person, than you are rich. Unfortunately, it has become part of our culture to look down on people that have less than us, and many people don’t even realize they are doing this. I believe it is important for people to step out of their routines every once in a while to help someone else in need. Not only for the fact that they are helping someone else, but for the feeling of fulfillment, which is priceless.

Noah Scovill said...

The social distance between those with greater power and those with less is more apparent and easily observable on the streets, subways, parks, almost anywhere you go in NYC. I have only lived in the city for 5 months and I have already experienced the condescending, cold shoulder, dismissive behavior of those who are, or at least believe themselves to be, on a higher social rung than myself. Last month I was riding the subway home from doing some remodeling to a friends rooftop balcony and, as you can imagine, was visibly dirty, with saw dust and sweat stains easily observable on my clothes. I was sitting across from three men wearing nice, seemingly expensive suits when I experienced one fo the worst “Charlie Horse” (muscle spasm) in my left hip. It was so intense and painful that I immediately hit the floor, holding my hip, while screaming out in pain. I was clearly in distress, but I couldn’t manage to form words. I writhed about on the floor for at about 15-20 seconds before the pain subsided. The entire time this was going on, and after it was over, the “suits” across from me just stared at me with eyes' absent of empathy, they didn't even ask me if I was alright. I could have been having a heart attack for all they knew. I believe, although I can't say for certain, that the reason for their callous disregard and complete lack of empathy for my situation was because they viewed me as a person who's status is below theirs'. This experience is a prime example of the gap in empathy and, if reducing the economic gap really is impossible without addressing the gap in empathy, we have a long road ahead of us.

Kenneth Belle said...

This subject is very eye opening, because to think of it now that is how people are most of the time because it is natural human behavior. A rich person would more likely listen to or relate to another rich person than a less wealthy person especially when it comes to advice. Its as if a person wanted to talk to someone about being healthy and working out, and relate to that person. 9 times out of 10 they would talk to a more slim individual rather than a more plump individual about the subject. So the same would go for the rich and the poor. Even though there are many out there that try to help out people less fortunate than them. But in a way they do it because they look down on the ones they are helping.

Kenneth Reilly said...

This article is very interesting from an economic perspective. The rich are supporting the lower class less and less. This is leading to less aid from the government and the gap increasing of social classes. The upper class believes that less aid should motivate people who have less opportunities to go out and assert themselves in the business world. This however is only making things worse and the upper class have all the resources available for them. The rich are inceasing their income and the lower class are working minimum wage jobs for these business owners allowing them to profit even more off of their goods. Rich are now superior in all ways by showing less sympathy toward them and only making the gap in our country worse by the day.

Matt Corrie said...

This is a article does a good job of discussing the topic of the wealth gap. It discusses how the rich don't listen to the poor or people below them, also the miidle class and the poor pay very close attention to what the rich say. The picture that the article uses really sets the tone for the article. The poor homeless man sitting outside is just avoided by the person walking by, You see this all the time in reality. I have done that same situation while walking through the city. This article shows how rich people show less care towards classes below them. I think its because they feel like they are on top and people owe them favors. The "empathy gap" has a lot to do with all the upper-class peoples behaviors, it makes the upper class people judge others behaviors only through there own eyes, pretty much it makes their opinion of something and everyone else's opinion is wrong.

Rich Gordon said...

The huge gap in society consists of money and power. Certain groups or classes of people look down or judge other groups that may not be on the same self standard as them. For example, in the article it states that rich people do not coexist well with people in a lower class. This is true because they live two different life styles. Not everyone doesn't pay the other any sort of mind but, they do different things in life separating them from being around each other. The biggest gap is between the extremely wealthy and the middle and lower classes of the United States. The 1% holds almost three quarters of American wealth. These certain people are not seen through the common eye. We for sure know them and their lives but they have no idea who the average people in the U.S are.