Social class, solipsism, and contextualism: how the rich are different from the poor

Psychol Rev. 2012 Jul;119(3):546-72. doi: 10.1037/a0028756.


Social class is shaped by an individual's material resources as well as perceptions of rank vis-à-vis others in society, and in this article, we examine how class influences behavior. Diminished resources and lower rank create contexts that constrain social outcomes for lower-class individuals and enhance contextualist tendencies--that is, a focus on external, uncontrollable social forces and other individuals who influence one's life outcomes. In contrast, abundant resources and elevated rank create contexts that enhance the personal freedoms of upper-class individuals and give rise to solipsistic social cognitive tendencies--that is, an individualistic focus on one's own internal states, goals, motivations, and emotions. Guided by this framework, we detail 9 hypotheses and relevant empirical evidence concerning how class-based contextualist and solipsistic tendencies shape the self, perceptions of the social environment, and relationships to other individuals. Novel predictions and implications for research in other socio-political contexts are considered.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Attitude*
  • Culture*
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Morals
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Power, Psychological
  • Psychological Theory
  • Psychology, Social
  • Self Concept
  • Social Behavior*
  • Social Class*
  • Social Environment*
  • Socioeconomic Factors