Poor and rich people respond in two contrasting manners towards victims of crisis or natural disasters according to a study by the University of California-Berkeley
. The study was led by Paul Piff, post doctoral scholar in psychology and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
According to the study while poor people during the times of crisis or natural disasters reach out to each other, the rich and wealthy remain oblivious to the plight of sufferers, lost in their world of comfort and material possession.
“In times of uncertainty, we see a dramatic polarisation, with the rich more focused on holding onto and attaining wealth and the poor spending more time with friends and loved ones,” according to Piff.
The study focuses on response of humans from diverse economic backgrounds to natural and man made calamities including earthquakes, hurricanes, political instability and economic recession.
Those from the lower class admitted that given a chance to move across the country in favor of a higher paying job during economic crisis, they would decline the offer so as to stay close to friends, family and colleagues. On the other hand, upper class participants, according to the study were ready to cut ties with their community under the same circumstance.
The researchers experimented with the response to participants from different class backgrounds under induced psychological states such as anxiety, uncertainty and helplessness. It gave them a clue to determine how social class shapes the likelihood of people turning to others under crisis situation.
It is well known that uncertainty triggers a fight or flight response but the class behavior under uncertainties haven’t been subjected to rigorous experimentation.
According to Piff, “Given the very different forms of coping that we observe among the upper and lower classes, our research suggests that in times of economic uncertainty and social instability, disparities between the haves and the have-nots could grow ever wider.”
While the study does not explain the class difference in response to crisis, it hypothesizes that material wealth
could be the preferred coping mechanism of an individual threatened by chaos and uncertainty.
Although research studies may sometimes affirm stereotypes and contradict them other times, yet a 2008 study by a university of Amsterdam professor and another study by University of California researchers arrived at similar conclusions
. According to these studies “people of lower social classes tended to be more empathetic and more compassionate. The less income and education people had, the researchers said, the more likely they were to be attuned to others”.