Researchers from New York University have made a pretty interesting discovery: the higher someone’s social class, the less they notice other people. Over a series of experiments, people who self-identified as being from a variety of social classes (poor, working, middle, upper-middle, and upper class) were tested to see how long they looked at passersby, how long they spent looking at people in the street, and how quickly they noticed when an image of a face changed to a different face.
The researchers found that in all these cases, people from higher in the class structure didn’t seem to notice other people as well. While they noticed passersby the same amount as any other class, they didn’t look at individual people as long. They took longer to notice when faces changed. The researchers posit that this might have something to do with these people being less reliant upon others for help, connections, and the like. Basically, the richer you are, the less you need other people to survive, and the less you notice them because of it.
That might reinforce some of our notions about how rich people don’t notice, or care about, the “little people.” It certainly gels with popular understandings of how the rich behave. But it has a deeper meaning than that. At the core of the research is the understanding that social class, like other factors, affects the way we think at a very basic level, and has a lot of influence on how we perceive the world. This research is one piece in the very large puzzle of understanding what drives human behavior.
But the research is still important because it helps draw attention to the dangers of social stratification. If the rich don’t pay much mind to others, then is that what drives big businesses and corporations to make selfish decisions?