Nav: Home

Other people are less attention-grabbing to the wealthy

October 18, 2016

The degree to which other people divert your attention may depend on your social class, according to new findings published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The research shows that people who categorize themselves as being in a relatively high social class spend less time looking at passersby compared with those who aren't as well off, a difference that seems to stem from spontaneous processes related to perception and attention.

"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," says psychological scientist Pia Dietze of New York University. "Like other cultural groups, social class affects information processing in a pervasive and spontaneous manner."

Previous studies have shown a variety of behavioral differences among people of various social classes -- including levels of compassion, interpersonal engagement, charity, ethicality, and empathy toward others. Dietze and co-author Eric Knowles wondered whether these discrepancies might stem, at least in part, from deep, culturally ingrained differences in the way people process information.

The researchers hypothesized that our social class affects how relevant others are to us in terms of our own goals and motivations. Compared with people who come from less-advantaged circumstances, people from relatively privileged backgrounds are likely to be less dependent on others socially; as such, they are less likely to view other people as potentially rewarding, threatening, or otherwise worth paying attention. Importantly, Dietze and Knowles posited that this difference in what they call "motivational relevance" is so fundamental that it manifests in basic cognitive processes -- like visual attention -- that operate quickly and involuntarily.

In one study, the researchers had 61 pedestrians in New York City wear Google Glass, presumably as a test of the electronic eyewear. The participants walked roughly one block while Google Glass recorded whatever they were looking at, and they also completed several survey measures that gauged social class. In one measure, for example, participants categorized themselves as belonging to either the poor, the working class, the middle class, the upper-middle class, or the upper class.

Later, an independent group of raters watched the recordings and noted the various people and things each Glass wearer looked at and for how long.

Dietze and Knowles then examined whether there were any links between what the participants paid attention to and their social class, taking participants' ethnicity into account.

The results indicated that social class didn't seem to play a role in how many times Glass wearers looked at other people. But social class was associated with how much time they spent looking at passersby: Participants who categorized themselves as being in a higher social class spent less time looking at other people than those who placed themselves in a lower social class.

Two follow-up studies using more precise eye tracking technology showed similar results: Higher-class participants spent less time looking at people in a street scene than did their lower-class peers.

Additional findings suggest that this difference in attention stems from spontaneous cognitive processes, rather than deliberate decision making. A total of 393 participants in an online study looked at alternating pairs of images, each of which contained one face and five objects. They were asked to identify whether the images were the same or different. The data revealed that higher-class participants took longer to notice when the face changed compared with lower-class participants; on the other hand, social class didn't seem to affect how long it took them to detect changes to one of the objects.

In other words, faces seem to be more effective in grabbing the attention of individuals who come from relatively lower-class backgrounds.

"Our work contributes to a growing knowledge base around the influence of social class background on psychological functioning," says 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."

Dietze and Knowles are expanding this line of research, collecting data in other countries and employing virtual reality technology, to better understand how far the link between social class and visual attention extends.
-end-
All data and materials have been made publicly available via the Open Science Framework and can be accessed at osf.io/zgq7m. The complete Open Practices Disclosure for this article can be found at http://pss.sagepub.com/content/by/supplemental-data. This article has received the badges for Open Data and Open Materials. More information about the Open Practices badges can be found at https://osf.io/tvyxz/wiki/1.%20View%20the%20Badges/ and http://pss.sagepub.com/content/25/1/3.full.

For more information about this study, please contact: Pia Dietze at pia.dietze@nyu.edu.

The article abstract is available online: http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2016/10/02/0956797616667721.abstract

The APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology. For a copy of the article "Social Class and the Motivational Relevance of Other Human Beings: Evidence From Visual Attention" and access to other Psychological Science research findings, please contact Anna Mikulak at 202-293-9300 or amikulak@psychologicalscience.org.

Association for Psychological Science

Related Attention Articles:

Controlling attention with brain waves
Having trouble paying attention? MIT neuroscientists may have a solution for you: Turn down your alpha brain waves.
People pay more attention to stimuli they associate with danger
A new analysis of how people prioritize their attention when determining safety and danger in busy settings, such as crossing a road, suggests that a person will pay more attention to something if they learn it is associated with danger.
Do the costs of cancer drugs receive enough attention?
A recent analysis from Canada found that information on health-related quality of life is often not collected for investigational cancer drugs or used to calculate the balance of costs and benefits of these drugs when they are submitted for reimbursement, according to findings published early online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.
Discrimination against older people needs attention, study says
Ever cracked a joke about old people? It might seem funny, but in a world where the population aged 60 or over is growing faster than all younger age groups, ageism is no laughing matter, says a University of Alberta researcher.
Abundance of information narrows our collective attention span
New study in Nature Communications finds increasingly narrow peaks of collective attention over time, supporting a 'social acceleration' occurring across different domains.
Trained musicians perform better -- at paying attention
Musical training produces lasting improvements to a cognitive mechanism that helps individuals be more attentive and less likely to be distracted by irrelevant stimuli while performing demanding tasks.
How attention helps the brain perceive an object
The ability of the brain to ignore extraneous visual information is critical to how we work and function, but the processes governing perception and attention are not fully understood.
How the brain enables us to rapidly focus attention
University of Queensland researchers have discovered a key mechanism in the brain that may underlie our ability to rapidly focus attention.
What are you looking at? How attention affects decision-making
Scientists using eye-tracking technology have found that what we look at helps guide our decisions when faced with two visible choices, such as snack food options.
Pay attention to the 'noise' in your brain
Researchers find that the 'noise' in the brain can be attributed to fluctuations in internally generated signals such as attention.
More Attention News and Attention Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

In & Out Of Love
We think of love as a mysterious, unknowable force. Something that happens to us. But what if we could control it? This hour, TED speakers on whether we can decide to fall in — and out of — love. Guests include writer Mandy Len Catron, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, musician Dessa, One Love CEO Katie Hood, and psychologist Guy Winch.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#543 Give a Nerd a Gift
Yup, you guessed it... it's Science for the People's annual holiday episode that helps you figure out what sciency books and gifts to get that special nerd on your list. Or maybe you're looking to build up your reading list for the holiday break and a geeky Christmas sweater to wear to an upcoming party. Returning are pop-science power-readers John Dupuis and Joanne Manaster to dish on the best science books they read this past year. And Rachelle Saunders and Bethany Brookshire squee in delight over some truly delightful science-themed non-book objects for those whose bookshelves are already full. Since...
Now Playing: Radiolab

An Announcement from Radiolab