People of a higher social class think they are better than others, even when they are not. This is according to the authors of a new study.
Researchers set out to determine whether men and women of higher social standing are more confident than lower-class individuals, and whether this confidence has helped them progress by appearing more competent than others.
For their study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a team examined the results of four studies in which more than 152,000 people participated. The first study looked at 150,949 small business owners in Mexico who applied for loans. The team looked at factors such as participants’ education level and income as well as the results of a psychological test in which they were asked to predict how they would do well. The results suggest that those from an upper social class were more “overconfident” than individuals from the lower classes.
A similar result emerged from a second study conducted in the United States, where 433 people responded to an online survey on topics such as their personalities, optimism about their future, and social class. This research went further by suggesting that an exaggerated sense of self-confidence of those higher up in the social hierarchy was motivated by a desire to achieve high social rank.
In the third study, 1,400 people completed a quiz. Higher-class people had greater self-confidence in tasks even when there was no measurable reason for them to perform better.
The fourth research saw 279 participants take part in a mock job interview. He revealed that people closer to the top of the social ladder were more confident than those at the lower rungs, which made it seem like they knew what they were doing. This likely helped them preserve their social status, the authors said.
Peter Belmi, assistant professor of business administration at the University of Virginia and lead author of the study, commented, “Benefits come with benefits. Those born in the upper echelons are likely to stay in the upper class, and high-income entrepreneurs disproportionately come from well-off and highly educated families.
“Our research suggests that social class shapes the attitudes people have about their abilities, and this in turn has important implications for how class hierarchies are perpetuated from generation to generation.”
Belmi continued, “In the middle class, people are socialized to differentiate themselves from others to express what they think and feel, and to confidently express their ideas and opinions even when they lack specific knowledge.
“In contrast, working class people are socialized to embrace the values of humility, authenticity and knowing your place in the hierarchy.”
Belmi believes the study showed that the idea that everyone thinks they are better than average may be more prevalent among the middle and upper classes.
“Our results suggest that finding solutions to alleviate class inequalities may require focusing on subtle and seemingly harmless human tendencies,” he said.
“While people may be well-meaning, these inequalities will continue to perpetuate if people do not correct their natural human tendency to confuse impressions of confidence with evidence of ability.”