Social class and communication situation – ScienceDaily


Are people with more money and education dominant and less warm? A socio-psychological study from Goethe University examines stereotypes.

How is our behavior influenced by our social class? Sociology has long been concerned with this question. Whether individuals grow up in a working-class environment or in an academic home, they adopt behaviors typical of their class – so the hypothesis goes. Frankfurt socio-psychologist Dr Anna Lisa Aydin has found new evidence to support this hypothesis. Her study, which she conducted jointly with researchers from Zurich, Hagen, Idaho and Tel Aviv, and which was published in the scientific journal Social psychology and personality sciences also shows, however, that people do not simply display class-specific behavior rigidly, but respond flexibly to their counterparts from other social classes.

Much of the research on the influence of social class stems from the ideas of sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. It describes how the environment in which we grow up fits deeply into our identity. Socio-psychological authors argue that people from lower social classes have access to fewer resources and can influence their environment only to a limited extent. They therefore rely more on mutual aid, making solidarity an important value. People identify with this value and behave in a cooperative manner accordingly. On the other hand, people from upper social classes have access to more resources, can choose among several alternatives and are less dependent on mutual aid. This results in individualistic conceptions of oneself where it is essential to shape the environment according to one’s own preferences. These different behaviors therefore constitute adaptations to the corresponding social environments.

This theory has been supported in part by the present study. In total, more than 2,000 people in Germany were interviewed. For those respondents who saw themselves as members of a lower social class, warm and cooperative interaction with others of their social class was more important than for those who saw themselves as members of a higher social class. In addition, those who earned more and were more educated placed more importance on demonstrating competence and assertiveness in their interactions with others than those in the group with lower incomes and less education.

The authors feared that these differences in behavior could lead to a further increase in social inequalities in Germany. People who are assertive have better chances for social advancement. However, the observed differences in behavior were relatively small. The influence of the social class of the individual’s counterpart had a significantly greater impact. How do people behave when interacting with someone from a lower or higher social group? The majority of those questioned qualified the social difference in Germany as unjustified or poorly justified. As a result, they found it important to behave in a warm and cooperative manner towards people with less money and education. Conversely, they value appearing competent and assertive to people with more money and education.

These results are particularly relevant given that social inequalities are increasing in Germany and other parts of the world, although most people perceive this as unwarranted. While research based on sociological theories can explain how this inequality can be exacerbated by conditionings within different social classes, the present study offers an optimistic perspective: in situations of communication between people of different classes where class differences are perceived as illegitimate, solidarity with the poor and assertiveness towards the rich are exhibited.

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Materials provided by Goethe University Frankfurt. Note: Content can be changed for style and length.

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