Class and compassion: socioeconomic factors predict responses to suffering

Emotion. 2012 Jun;12(3):449-59. doi: 10.1037/a0026508. Epub 2011 Dec 12.


Previous research indicates that lower-class individuals experience elevated negative emotions as compared with their upper-class counterparts. We examine how the environments of lower-class individuals can also promote greater compassionate responding-that is, concern for the suffering or well-being of others. In the present research, we investigate class-based differences in dispositional compassion and its activation in situations wherein others are suffering. Across studies, relative to their upper-class counterparts, lower-class individuals reported elevated dispositional compassion (Study 1), as well as greater self-reported compassion during a compassion-inducing video (Study 2) and for another person during a social interaction (Study 3). Lower-class individuals also exhibited heart rate deceleration-a physiological response associated with orienting to the social environment and engaging with others-during the compassion-inducing video (Study 2). We discuss a potential mechanism of class-based influences on compassion, whereby lower-class individuals' are more attuned to others' distress, relative to their upper-class counterparts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Emotions / physiology
  • Empathy*
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Male
  • Psychological Tests
  • Social Class*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Video Recording