New research provides evidence that people with lower socioeconomic status (SES) tend to have negative perceptions of how others see them. The results, published in Bulletin on Personality and Social Psychologysuggest that people with low SES are more likely to have inaccurate metaperceptions than people with high SES. In particular, they believe that others view them as colder and less competent.
The researchers behind the new study wanted to better understand how people’s social status, specifically their SES, affects their perceptions of how others see them and how this affects their self-esteem and self-expression. Additionally, they wanted to study how these perceptions affect people’s responses to negative feedback.
“Our lab is interested in how psychological processes can further exacerbate structural inequalities. In this case, we were interested in whether and how people’s expectations of how others see them are linked to stereotypes about their social class groups,” said study author Kristin Laurin, associate professor at the University of British Columbia and Director of the MAGIC Lab.
The researchers conducted multiple studies involving over 5,800 participants, including direct replications and pre-registered studies. They found that individuals with a lower SES tended to believe that others perceived them more negatively in terms of warmth and competence than those with a higher SES.
This pattern was explained by the lower self-esteem and weaker self-presentation expectations of those with lower SES. People with a lower SES tended to have more negative perceptions of themselves and their worth than people with a higher SES. They also believed that giving a good impression of themselves was more difficult.
In addition, the study found that people with lower SES tended to blame themselves when they were actually perceived as cold or incompetent (e.g., “I wasn’t personable enough,” “I don’t have enough intelligent comments made”). In contrast, when people with higher SES were actually perceived as cold or incompetent, they were more likely to attribute such perceptions to external factors (e.g., “You don’t really understand me”, “We had different problem-solving techniques, so we probably wouldn’t work well together.” “).
“Where you stand on the socioeconomic hierarchy in relation to others in your society or community depends on how you expect others to see you and how you explain it when your interactions go poorly,” Laurin told PsyPost. “As you move down the hierarchy, you expect to be perceived not only as less competent and capable, but also as less warm and friendly. Then if someone does When you perceive yourself that way, you blame yourself more than you would if you were higher up in the hierarchy.”
Researchers also examined different dimensions of the SES, including current rank (e.g., current income) and cultural context (e.g., income and childhood education). They found that the association between SES and metaperceptions (perceptions about how others see themselves) is more consistently related to current rank measures and less consistently to cultural context measures.
“We were surprised that people lower down in the hierarchy expected others to see them as cold and unfriendly. If anything, the stereotypes that most people hold about social class groups would have led us to believe that the opposite was true,” Laurin noted.
But how are people with a lower SES actually perceived? Researchers found that regardless of SES, people were perceived by others to be equally warm and competent. In other words, what other people actually saw did not differ based on their SES.
However, when it came to metaperceptions, individuals with lower SES had less accurate metaperceptions than those with higher SES. This means that people with a lower SES expected others to view them more negatively, but in fact others viewed them just as positively as people with a higher SES.
The study’s findings have implications for understanding the impact of SES on social cognition and its potential role in perpetuating material inequalities. However, the researchers also noted limitations, such as the inability to establish causal links between SES and metaperceptions and the potential influence of confounding variables such as self-esteem and ethnicity.
“One caveat is that the social class hierarchy has many dimensions; “Our findings relate more to the hierarchy, which is based on factors such as your income and how you perceive yourself in relation to others, and less to factors such as your level of education or family background,” explained Laurin. “In some ways, that surprised us too – we might have thought that your level of education would be a stronger indicator of whether you would expect others to be competent!”
“One question that remains to be resolved is whether these expectations will turn into self-fulfilling prophecies. Another is who benefits most from these biased expectations: those higher up who may overestimate how positively others will perceive them, or those lower who may underestimate it.”
The study, Socioeconomic Status and Meta-Perceptions: How Markers of Culture and Rank Predict Beliefs About How Others See Us, was authored by Holly R. Engstrom, Kristin Laurin, Nick R. Kay, and Lauren J. Human.