Income and Emotional Recognition

Would it surprise you that wealthier people are actually worse at reading emotions?

A growing body of research is beginning to show that the less well off a person is the more they have learned to read other people’s emotional expressions. While it might seem counterintuitive, this skill connected with the increased practical necessity of detecting emotions when one is of a lower economic background.

For instance, in a 2010 study, a team of researchers performed a series of experiments on emotional recognition as it related to socioeconomic status. In one experiment, participants were shown a series of portraits and asked to identify the emotions displayed. In another, they engaged in mock job interviews, trying to detect emotions during an actual interaction with another person.

The results were divided between participants with college educations and those without, as the authors saw educational level as an important indicator of economic background. In both instances, the less educated participants scored higher in emotional accuracy, with women unsurprisingly testing higher than men.

A particularly interesting takeaway is the fact that these results did not depend on an actual interaction, as emotional accuracy was also demonstrated from just an analysis of a picture and its facial expression!

One of the authors, Dr. Michael Kraus of Yale University, remarked “Other people’s thoughts, intentions, or wishes loom larger in my outcomes if I’m lower income… That’s because, if something happens to me, I need to recruit other people to help me deal with situations.”

This may also be due to wealthier individuals simply paying less attention to other people in public than those from higher socioeconomic statuses. A 2016 study examined participants as they walked down public streets, using Google Glass technology to track their eye movements.

The study authors found that those with higher incomes tended to look at other people less frequently than those with low incomes. These same results held when participants simply examined pictures of busy streets.

These results, while perhaps surprising, fit with the idea of emotional recognition as a skill rather than some sort of inherent trait. People who need to develop the skill, and have high stakes opportunities to do so, will become better at emotional recognition.

Similarly, past research shows that emotional intelligence is something that is heavily shaped by upbringing, so people raised in low-income households may be more likely to have this skill as a major part of their early education.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t develop this skill, regardless of your income. Teaching people to become better at reading emotions is exactly what Humintell does!

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