Rich man, poor man: study shows body language can indicate socioeconomic status

Feb 04, 2009

A new study in Psychological Science reveals that nonverbal cues can give away a person's socioeconomic status (SES). Volunteers whose parents were from upper SES backgrounds displayed more disengagement-related behaviors compared to participants from lower SES backgrounds. In addition, when a separate group of observers were shown 60 second clips of the videos, they were able to correctly guess the participants' SES background, based on their body language.

Socioeconomic status (SES) is determined by a number of factors such as wealth, occupation and schools attended. SES influences the food we eat, hobbies we participate in and can even have an impact on our health. People with an upper SES background can often be accused of flaunting their status, such as by the types of cars they drive or how many pairs of Manolo Blahniks they have in their closet. It is easy to guess someone's SES based on their clothing and the size of their home, but what about more subtle clues? Psychologists Michael W. Kraus and Dacher Keltner of the University of California, Berkeley wanted to see if non-verbal cues (that is, body language) can indicate our SES.

To test this idea, the researchers videotaped participants as they got to know one another in one-on-one interview sessions. During these taped sessions, the researchers looked for two types of behaviors: disengagement behaviors (including fidgeting with personal objects and doodling) and engagement behaviors (including head nodding, laughing and eye contact).

The results, reported in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, reveal that nonverbal cues can give away a person's SES. Volunteers whose parents were from upper SES backgrounds displayed more disengagement-related behaviors compared to participants from lower SES backgrounds. In addition, when a separate group of observers were shown 60 second clips of the videos, they were able to correctly guess the participants' SES background, based on their body language.

The researchers note that this is the first study to show a relation between SES and social engagement behavior. They surmise that people from upper SES backgrounds who are wealthy and have access to prestigious institutions tend to be less dependent on others. "This lack of dependence among upper SES people is displayed in their nonverbal behaviors during social interactions," the psychologists conclude.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

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User comments : 8

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moj85
4.5 / 5 (2) Feb 04, 2009
So rich people are jerks who don't enjoy listening to people?
Keter
not rated yet Feb 04, 2009
So, the snob factor emerges, eh? ;o)

BTW, does it mean I'm poor that I don't have a clue what "Manolo Blahniks" are - or that I have better things to do than pay attention to fashion?
el_gramador
not rated yet Feb 04, 2009
Probably not. Although by context I'd surmise they're a type of shoe (heel most likely).
lengould100
not rated yet Feb 05, 2009
So, my conclusion is I should aspire to being born into a rich family if I want to be a jerk? Great.
mysticfree
not rated yet Feb 05, 2009
A link to the videos used in the test would have been very helpful with this article.
TrevorBGood
not rated yet Feb 23, 2009
We all need other people. Those rich guys are not jerks with the people they think they need. But they are dismissive of people they think they don't need.

But if the rich snob wants help from another rich guy, he must still appear confident, or else the other guy will not help him.

A very fine line to have to walk, especially when he is desperate. Like now, during an economic recession.

I don't envy them, I feel sorry for them!
mereditho
not rated yet Jul 11, 2009
The summary here falls short. They are basing subjects wealth on parents wealth and parents SES.... hmmm (makes one think of Warren Buffet, whose children have been forced, for the most part, to live among us) anyway... one could also summize the volunteers appear to be acting entitled rather then simply disengaged. It appears the wealthy parents have bailed them out to a disservice of their children. Makes me think of the book "The Price of Privilege"

Also how were physical cues like Omega's, diamonds, and designer clothes eliminated for the subjects? Were the subjects naked on the videos?

It would be interesting to see if the disengaged/entitled behavior of the "wealthy parents" children changed or remained if they were only among other children of wealthy parents. Also, it would be interesting to see if adults/parents acted the same.

GaryB
not rated yet Jul 14, 2009


But if the rich snob wants help from another rich guy, he must still appear ...

A very fine line to have to walk, especially when he is desperate. Like now, during an economic recession.

...I don't envy them, I feel sorry for them!


Thanks, but no worries, we're doing fine.

I suspect this kowtow to superiors, snub inferiors happens for any relative differences on the poor--rich spectrum.