Do Rich People Just Care Less?

Recent research suggests powerful people pay little attention to those below them. Mindful's Editor-in-Chief looks at "the empathy gap."

Photo: hill.josh/

A recent New York Times Opinionator piece, written by Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence and Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence (excerpted in the upcoming issue of Mindful magazine), looks at the growing body of research showing how people at the top display little empathy to those lower down on the social ladder.

Goleman mentions, for example, a 2008 study conducted by psychologists from the University of Amsterdam and the University of California-Berkeley, that shows how when two complete strangers are in conversation about difficulties they have been through—the death of a loved one, failure—the higher-status participants showed less attention to their partner’s pain. Other studies point to poor people being better attuned to interpersonal relations, and giving more.

Among the higher-status individuals, Goleman says, there is a clear tuning out of the needs of those below. He writes:

“This tuning out has been observed, for instance, with strangers in a mere five-minute get-acquainted session, where the more powerful person shows fewer signals of paying attention, like nodding or laughing. Higher-status people are also more likely to express disregard, through facial expressions, and are more likely to take over the conversation and…