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One day, CH will achieve the perfect post title that captures the spirit of the cosmic shiv. You will read it and the gleaming knife will metamorphose from the words right before your eyes. Perhaps this one is it…

A reader forwards a study and adds this promising promo:

Powerful people lack empathy.

Asshole game proven by science.

Nice guys do finish last.

The paper is called Social Class, Contextualism, and Empathic Accuracy. The abstract:

Recent research suggests that lower-class individuals favor explanations of personal and political outcomes that are oriented to features of the external environment. We extended this work by testing the hypothesis that, as a result, individuals of a lower social class are more empathically accurate in judging the emotions of other people. In three studies, lower-class individuals (compared with upper-class individuals) received higher scores on a test of empathic accuracy (Study 1), judged the emotions of an interaction partner more accurately (Study 2), and made more accurate inferences about emotion from static images of muscle movements in the eyes (Study 3). Moreover, the association between social class and empathic accuracy was explained by the tendency for lower-class individuals to explain social events in terms of features of the external environment. The implications of class-based patterns in empathic accuracy for well-being and relationship outcomes are discussed.

I bet you’re wondering where this is going. The suspense is delicious!


FYI, before delving into the paper, “empathic accuracy” simply means the ability to read another person. Someone with high empathic accuracy is very good at discerning how other people feel, based on social and visual cues.

It’ll seem counter-intuitive* to some, but lower class people in this study were more empathic. When you have fewer resources, the external environment exerts more influence on your life outcome. A well-off person can insulate himself from trouble (hi, Cheap Chalupas!) in ways that a poorer person can’t. So the poorer person needs to be more aware of potential dangers (and benefits), and that means being better at reading people to determine if they will hurt or help him.

*It’s fairly well-known that most criminals are less empathic**, dumber and poorer than the general population, so a study which purports to find that lower SES people have higher empathic accuracy than higher SES people would seem to fly in the face of the typical criminal profile. However, certain aspects of criminal psychology are better thought of as sharing more traits across SES than within; that is, high SES criminals may be just as anti-empathic (sociopathic) as low SES criminals, even when there are far fewer criminals as a proportion of the high SES group.

**Also worth noting: Empathic accuracy — precision at reading others’ emotions — doesn’t necessarily mean identification with those emotions. A person with robust Dark Triad traits would be very good at knowing what people are feeling and using that knowledge to manipulate them, but he wouldn’t feel much guilt from exploiting others.

Our central prediction was that participants with manipulated lower-class rank would discern the emotions of other people better than participants with manipulated upper-class rank. Initial analyses revealed that participants in the lower-class-rank condition (M = 27.08) showed greater empathic accuracy than participants in the upper-class-rank condition (M = 25.23), F (1, 77) = 4.64, p < .05. To further test our hypothesis, we conducted an ANCOVA with our social-class manipulation as a between-participants factor, gender and agreeableness as covariates, and empathic accuracy as the dependent variable. As Figure 3 shows, participants experimentally induced to experience lower-class rank were better able than their upper-class-rank counterparts to discern emotions from subtle expressions in the eyes.

This is additional evidence that social priming works, at least temporarily. (Social priming is the presumed foundation for a lot of inner game concepts, as well as “alpha maximizing” and testosterone-raising power position body language techniques.) Subjects who were made to think they were lower rank experienced improved empathic accuracy.

One prediction that follows from these tendencies is that lower-class individuals should be more accurate judges of the emotions of others than upper-class individuals are. In three studies that tested this hypothesis using measures of both objective and subjective SES, lower-class individuals, relative to their upper-class counterparts, scored higher on a measure of empathic accuracy (Study 1), judged the emotions of a stranger more accurately (Study 2), and inferred emotions more accurately from subtle expressions in the eyes (Study 3).

So what does this have to do with game and assholery?

Finally, the findings relating social class to empathic accuracy have potentially profound implications for how social inequality affects close relationships. In fact, the greater social engagement exhibited by lower-class individuals in past research (Kraus & Keltner, 2009) may spring from a similar need to perceive the external environment accurately in order to be responsive to it. Empathic accuracy may mediate influences of class on relationship quality, commitment, and satisfaction. It is also interesting to speculate about the costs of heightened empathic accuracy for overall health and well-being, particularly because lower-class individuals tend to experience chronically elevated levels of negative emotion and negative mood disorders (e.g., Gallo & Matthews, 2003). Future research should investigate whether being able to identify other people’s negative emotions contributes to relationship turmoil among lower-class individuals (Argyle, 1994; Levenson & Ruef, 1992).

Intriguingly, highly empathic people may get stressed out from constantly reading and reacting to other people’s emotional states. And this accords with experience; alpha males seem happier and also less likely to concern themselves with how others are feeling. Beta and omega males who fret about what women think of them are nervous nellies and tightly wound.

The relation of this paper with asshole game requires a connect-the-dots jog, but here it is:

Women love socially dominant men.
Socially dominant men have less empathy. They’re more self-focused and less concerned with the opinions and feelings of others.
A lack of empathy is a hallmark of assholes.
Being as asshole is attractive to women because they perceive it as the behavior of a socially dominant alpha male.
Weepy, sensitive niceguys stock up on Jergen’s and Kleenex.

Any questions?


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