Why Upper Classes Are Less Emotional, And How You Benefit

Emotions present a paradox to us because they seem to have at least two dimensions. The first is something like a reaction, when one “falls” in love or rages with enmity, and seems to be equal parts instinctual bodily reaction and cerebral rationalization of strong impulses.

In the other dimension, emotions serve as a kind of intelligence used to assess the quality of the world. When you esteem someone more than anything else, and they fit with your own spiritual and mental structure, you decide to love them, and it is a richer, stronger form of love.

For humans, the first type of emotions seem to happen to us as if they were connected to events. People who “fall in love,” excepting those who seem to simply make the second type of connection very quickly, generally are reacting to physical impressions and interpreting the object as part of themselves.

To understand that, we must look at the young man falling in love with a slender girl with a cute face who just said something funny in a charismatic, highly personal irony. He knows next to nothing about her, but he can construct something to love out of what he does know, meaning that the object of his love is mostly himself.

In the same way, for most people hatred occurs when they see something threatening, but a good deal of this has to do with fear of this thing in themselves or fear that they will not know how to respond to it if it gets any closer.

After all, a snake in the woods — even a deadly one — does not inspired hatred. It inspires a desire to watchfully walk around it and remember to take a different path home. We do not “hate” bears and tigers, although we fear them; we treat them as problems to be solved.

A study on social class and emotion tells us much about both emotion and the different relationships that we can have with it:

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.

Interpreting this requires that we look further into the phenomenon of externalization here:

Lower-class individuals’ life out-comes—shaped by reduced material wealth and perceptions of lower rank—are more dependent on forces in the external social context than are the life outcomes of upper-class indi-viduals (e.g., Keltner, Gruenfeld, & Anderson, 2003; Kraus & Keltner, 2009)…Because they have a lower sense of control, lower-subjective-SES individuals tend to explain personal and social outcomes (e.g., receiving a failing grade in school) in terms of external, contextual forces (Kraus et al., 2009)

In other words, the lower classes view themselves as powerless — we might see this as fatalism, a form of solipsism — and therefore tend to explain events as happening to them, with their own agency being inert like that of an observer.

This “external social context” means, generally, the opinions and behaviors of others. That means the emotions of others, which reflects more than powerlessness, the nature of their social interaction: people are emotional and therefore, emotions must be managed.

On the contrary, upper class individuals tend to spend more attention to the logic at the heart of the complex problems that they must fix as part of their roles in society. For them, they are not just empowered, but responsible and therefore must become actors and not observers.

Passivity as a basis for externalization tells us not only how crowds form from the lower classes upward, but how emotions act like an external event, as in an impulse, reaction, or sensation. The upper classes sensibly ignore these, and we get better decision-making from that attitude.

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