Affluent people have more resources available to them, and their status might suggest they’ve made smart decisions about money. But a recent study finds that people who aren’t rich may actually make wiser decisions when it comes to their relationships with friends, family and co-workers.
The research, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, examined the link between class and reasoning in two experiments: an online survey of 2,145 people from across the United States and in-person interviews with almost 300 residents of one county in Michigan. Both groups included people from varying economic backgrounds, from the nonworking poor to the middle- or upper-class.
People in the study were asked to recall recent experiences from their lives, or to consider hypothetical situations, that involved friends or coworkers. They also answered questions designed to determine how much they engaged in each of the five aspects of what the researchers called “wise reasoning style.”
People with wise reasoning style recognize the limits of their own knowledge (known as intellectual humility); recognize that the world is in flux and that situations can unfold in multiple ways; look at things from an outsider’s viewpoint; recognize the other side’s perspective in an argument; and search for ways to compromise and resolve conflicts.
The researches found that people in a higher social class “consistently related to lower levels of wise reasoning,” the authors wrote in their paper. The results were consistent across different regions of the United States and occurred regardless of people’s IQ, age, gender and personality differences in agreeableness, openness to new experiences and consideration of others’ emotions.
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The findings suggest that higher social class “weighs individuals down” by undermining their ability to reason wisely, the study authors wrote in their paper. “The rich may have the affordances that provide the foundation for higher education and potential for wealth,” lead author Igor Grossman, associate professor of psychology at the University of Waterloo, told TIME by email, “but they may have less of the affordances that teach them—or force them—to reason wisely about interpersonal conflicts.”