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The Empathy Gap: Do Rich People Care Less?

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It is essentially human for people with more power to care less:

A growing body of recent research shows that people with the most social power pay scant attention to those with little such power. This tuning out has been observed, for instance, with strangers in a mere five-minute get-acquainted session, where the more powerful person shows fewer signals of paying attention, like nodding or laughing. Higher-status people are also more likely to express disregard, through facial expressions, and are more likely to take over the conversation and interrupt or look past the other speaker.

Bringing the micropolitics of interpersonal attention to the understanding of social power, researchers are suggesting, has implications for public policy.

A prerequisite to empathy is simply paying attention to the person in pain:

In 2008, social psychologists from the University of Amsterdam and the University of California, Berkeley, studied pairs of strangers telling one another about difficulties they had been through, like a divorce or death of a loved one. The researchers found that the differential expressed itself in the playing down of suffering. The more powerful were less compassionate toward the hardships described by the less powerful.

in general, we focus the most on those we value most:

While the wealthy can hire help, those with few material assets are more likely to value their social assets: like the neighbor who will keep an eye on your child from the time she gets home from school until the time you get home from work. The financial difference ends up creating a behavioral difference.

Poor people are better attuned to interpersonal relations — with those of the same strata, and the more powerful — than the rich are, because they have to be.

Also, people who aren't super good looking are better attuned to interpersonal relations than attractive people.

Because they have to be.

This has profound implications for societal behavior and government policy:

Tuning in to the needs and feelings of another person is a prerequisite to empathy, which in turn can lead to understanding, concern and, if the circumstances are right, compassionate action.

In politics, readily dismissing inconvenient people can easily extend to dismissing inconvenient truths about them. The insistence by some House Republicans in Congress on cutting financing for food stamps and impeding the implementation of Obamacare, which would allow patients, including those with pre-existing health conditions, to obtain and pay for insurance coverage, may stem in part from the empathy gap.

As political scientists have noted, redistricting and gerrymandering have led to the creation of more and more safe districts, in which elected officials don’t even have to encounter many voters from the rival party, much less empathize with them.

That last point is truly sad, when you think about it.

Well, a true democracy represents diverse interests across all the people, including callous douchebags... it's usually the most organized of us that get active and see their interests prevail, and unfortunately our culture of indifference means that this is more often than not a well-disciplined minority--at least in the short-term until such inanity pisses off enough of the majority to fight back.

A well-disciplined minority can get a lot done in our society. And often does.

Yes they do, and unfortunately we might pity the rest of us for letting them get away with that...

If there's one theme we keep coming back to, it's that the system is rigged to resist change. 

Is this partially related to an increased concentration of sociopaths at the top of the food chain, as uncaring of others is the cornerstone of the disorder.

I think so, Janill.

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