Lower class wiser about interpersonal conflict than middle class: study

December 20, 2017, University of Waterloo
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

New research from the University of Waterloo finds that lower class populations are wiser than their middle-class counterparts in their ability to reason about interpersonal matters.

The study measures as the ability to be open-minded, intellectually humble and integrate different perspectives on the issue people reflect on.

In comparing social classes and their associated wisdom, the study reveals that more affluent regions and individuals, as well as situations reflecting higher social standing are linked with diminished ability to reason wisely.

"This is not surprising when we consider our cultural emphasis on intelligence such as IQ, competency to accomplish tasks independently and the focus on self as opposed to the considerations of others, in the reach for success," said Igor Grossmann, associate professor of psychology who led the Waterloo research. "As we continue to focus as a society on independence and entitlement among the middle class, we are also inadvertently eroding wisdom and reasoning in favour of a more self-centered population."

Using large-scale surveys and lab studies, Grossmann and co-author Justin Brienza, who was PhD candidate at Waterloo at the time of the research, were able to build on previous studies that determined that individuals with a lower income are often more sensitive to their environments.

Driven by economic scarcity, these individuals will consider the impact of their decisions on those around them and those with whom they have interdependent relationships. Characteristics of open-mindedness and integrating different perspectives are necessary in order to coordinate with others and share resources.

The present study of social class differences in wise reasoning is specific to interpersonal conflicts and does not suggest class-related differences in the domain of intergroup reasoning, such as within social or political debates.

"Seeing self in the context of can be prosperous, as evident in other societies such as China, Korea or Japan" said Grossmann. "To increase cultural prosperity Canadian law and policy makers have the opportunity integrate the wisdom and learning from resilience with which people approach economic adversity."

Grossmann and Brienza's study appears in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Explore further: Study finds that our level of wisdom varies depending on the situation

More information: Social class and wise reasoning about interpersonal conflicts across regions, persons and situations, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, rspb.royalsocietypublishing.or … .1098/rspb.2017.1870

Related Stories

Wise deliberation sustains cooperation

March 7, 2017

Giving people time to think about cooperating on a task can have a positive effect if they are big-picture thinkers, but if they tend to focus on their own, immediate experience, the time to think may make them less cooperative, ...

Distance from a conflict may promote wiser reasoning

June 9, 2014

If you're faced with a troubling personal dilemma, such as a cheating spouse, you may think about it more wisely if you consider it as an outside observer would, according to research forthcoming in Psychological Science, ...

People who value virtue show wiser reasoning

October 30, 2017

From romantic dramas to tensions at work, we're often better at working through other people's problems than our own—while we may approach our friends' problems with wise, clear-eyed objectivity, we often view our own problems ...

Recommended for you

Study: Social media sways exercise motivation

January 17, 2019

It's January – a time when students are looking for that extra bit of oomph. For some, time spent on social media might provide the necessary inspiration to get up and exercising – but that time can come with consequences, ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.