Research/Opinion: Can 7 words really reveal your class?

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It’s difficult to write this. Apparently, one’s “social class” can be detected in as few as seven words.

That’s unsettling on multiple levels. That we judge one another so quickly. That we even want to. That such hierarchies as “class” still matter, at least subconsciously, despite our egalitarian philosophies. That we persist in equating class with money and speech, rather than good manners, consideration for others, or ethics.

But I digress. Back to the research.

Building upon scores of prior studies, a team from Yale and University of California-San Francisco published “Signs of social class: The experience of economic inequality in everyday life” in the May 2017 issue of Perspectives in Psychological Science. Their study participants guessed the income level of strangers using one of three cues: A 60-second video, 20 photos from their Facebook profile, or clipped voice recordings of words read from the same two passages (and, from, thought, beautiful, imagine, yellow, the — chosen only for their commonality in the reading material).

Of all three methods, the words approach was the most accurate. That surprised even the researchers, who said they marveled at how little information was required.

Social inequality both real and perceived has wide-ranging effects. It tends to affect the way we treat one another, trust one another, and what limits we put on others, whether or not we realize it.

Prior research supports that such biases exist (independent from other qualifications), correlating socioeconomic categories with restricting individuals’ choices from health to education, housing, and career mobility. In roughly 70 percent of studies (as cited in this report) examining the health impacts of economic inequality, data indicates that the health of society as a whole worsens as economic inequality intensifies.

The Yale/UC researchers concluded that overall, unacknowledged class biases “leak in” to society more easily than originally suspected. The result, psychologists say, is we subconsciously dehumanize others first, then find justifying reasons.

Social signals aren’t all bad; they are part of how man survives in his environment. They can serve to protect, warn, attract, and inform. The trick, as the study authors implied, may be to become more aware so we may better distinguish which are informative cues, and which are prejudgments and bias, thus avoiding stereotypes and unnecessary barriers.

For more information see: https://bit.ly/2OjHvUM

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Sholeh Patrick is a columnist with the Hagadone News Network. Email: sholeh@cdapress.com

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