Social class and hostility

Mike Barr hasn’t commented on my blog in a while.  Perhaps its because I ignored the cool research he sent me.  Anyway, here’s a really cool experiment about how social class affects threat vigilance (i.e., chip-on-the-shoulder-ness) and hostility:

In Study 1, participants engaged in a teasing interaction with a close friend. Lower-class participants—measured in terms of social class rank in society and within the friendship—more accurately tracked the hostile emotions of their friend. As a result, lower-class individuals experienced more hostile emotion contagion relative to upper-class participants. In Study 2, lower-class participants manipulated to experience lower subjective socioeconomic rank showed more hostile reactivity to ambiguous social scenarios relative to upper-class participants and to lower-class participants experiencing elevated socioeconomic rank. The results suggest that class affects expectations, perception, and experience of hostile emotion, particularly in situations in which lower-class individuals perceive their subordinate rank.

Mike comments:

The article below seems to provide additional evidence of the impact of social class on a multitude of behaviors.  In addition to the outcomes described below, I bet that the way people deal with authority, roles, and rules in the workplace is also related to the dynamics described below.  I have seen first-hand the way people from low SES backgrounds (sometimes AAs, but frequently low SES southern whites) reacted to being told what to do by a foreman, boss, or whatever – they often took this as a personal affront to their pride or social status rather than recognizing this as part of the role of being an employee.   I observed this time and again in the New Orleans area (as a busboy, general laborer, and tree trimmer, and general roofer), Tennessee, rural south Georgia, and Philadelphia.   The folks who had problems dealing with the roles and responsibilities off the workplace were often resentful of being told what to do, combative, quick to feel insulted, blustered about kicking people’s asses, and would often express their frustration by working more slowly, sloppily, or complaining, being late, loafing, etc.  Basically, anything they could do to express autonomy and try to bolster their standing.

This is the kind of research that ought to inform a lot more of our public debates about class, race, academic performance, social mobility, and employment.

Indeed.  Personally, I’ve been fortunate enough to encounter a lot less of this than Mike.  I was intrigued of the idea of social rank “within the friendship,” though.  Not quite sure how that’s defined, but I had a good friend growing up who was clearly a lower “social rank” than the rest of our group of friends and it certainly led to a fair amount of hostility– though generally manifested in a very passive-aggressive style.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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