Psychological researchers Michael W. Kraus, Stéphane Côté, and Dacher Keltner noticed that poorer people tended to be more dependent upon relationships that wealthier people:
For example, if you can’t afford to buy support services, such as daycare service for your children, you have to rely on your neighbors or relatives to watch the kids while you attend classes or run errands[...]
So they wondered if lower-class people were able to perceive the emotional states of others at a higher level than upper-class people. They decided to use educational attainment as a determinant of social class and tested the comparative ability of college graduates and non-college graduates at reading facial expressions:
These results suggest that people of upper-class status aren’t very good at recognizing the emotions other people are feeling. The researchers speculate that this is because they can solve their problems, like the daycare example, without relying on others — they aren’t as dependent on the people around them.
A final experiment found that, when people were made to feel that they were at a lower social class than they actually were, they got better at reading emotions. This shows that “it’s not something ingrained in the individual,” Kraus says. “It’s the cultural context leading to these differences.” He says this work helps show that stereotypes about the classes are wrong. “It’s not that a lower-class person, no matter what, is going to be less intelligent than an upper-class person. It’s all about the social context the person lives in, and the specific challenges the person faces. If you can shift the context even temporarily, social class differences in any number of behaviors can be eliminated.”