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date: 18 October 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Who is more likely to experience compassion: someone who is rich or someone who is poor? In this chapter, we review how psychological science can shed light on this question. We argue that social class differences in objective material resources (e.g., income) and corresponding subjective perceptions of rank produce self- versus other-oriented patterns of social cognition and behavior among upper- and lower-class individuals, respectively. Extending this framework to the domain of compassion, empirical studies find that individuals from lower social class backgrounds are more prone to feelings of compassion and more likely to behave in ways that are compassionate, including sharing with, caring for, and helping others, relative to individuals from higher social class backgrounds. We describe boundary conditions and mitigating factors to the class–compassion gap, and conclude by outlining important questions and lines of inquiry to guide future research.

Keywords: social class, socioeconomic status, SES, compassion, empathy, prosocial behavior, generosity

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