Your ability to note other people around you may be partially influenced by your social class, or at least that’s the conclusion of a recent study from New York University. According to the research, people who identify themselves as from a higher social class are less aware of the people around them.

Using eye tracking technology, the team revealed that “high class” individuals spent less time looking at passersby on the street than people who placed themselves in a lower social class, Psy Post reported. According to the researchers, these findings are the result of our spontaneous cognitive processes, meaning that individuals are not even aware of what is occurring. Although it's not clear why the rich are less vigilant about noticing faces, the team suggested that wealthy people may be less socially dependent on others, and we may not see what we don't think we need.

“Across field, lab, and online studies, our research documents that other humans are more likely to capture the attention of lower-class individuals than the attention of higher-class individuals,” explained study author Pia Dietze of New York University, Psy Post reported. “Like other cultural groups, social class affects information processing in a pervasive and spontaneous manner.”

For the study, the researchers conducted a series of different experiments to determine how factors such as class, age, and race played a role in our perception of others. For example, in one experiment, 61 individuals wore eye tracking technology while walking around a city neighborhood in order to gauge time spent looking at others. Another experiment had 393 participants in an online study look at alternating pairs of images, which each contained one face and five objects. They were asked to identify whether the images were the same or different; results showed that higher-class participants took longer to notice when the face changed compared with lower-class participants.

The team suggested that wealthier people face fewer dangers from strangers, which makes them less reliant on others; as a result they don’t see as much of a need to pay attention to people on the street.

“Our work contributes to a growing knowledge base around the influence of social class background on psychological functioning,” added Dietze. “The more we know about the effect of social class differences, the better we can address widespread societal issues — this research is just one piece of the puzzle.”

While the wealthy may be disinterested in those they don’t know, past research has suggested that they spend more time with their friends, while the poor instead choose to spend time with their family. The reason seems to be connected to their disinterest in strangers: They are less dependent on others. According to the study, poor individuals may rely on familiar social ties to help with life challenges, such as childcare and household tasks, while the rich are free to hire help, and then socialize without any objective.

Source: Dietze P, Knowles ED. Social Class and the Motivational Relevance of Other Human Beings Evidence From Visual Attention. Psychological Science . 2016

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