Wealthy people or those who categorize themselves as being in a relatively high social class are more likely to ignore passerby on the street because they view those around them as irrelevant and aren’t worthy of their attention. While people of lower social classes tend to pay closer attention to others on the street when they walk by, rich people appear to overlook them as they have little to offer, the study reveals.

“Across field, lab, and online studies, our research documents that other humans are more likely to capture the attention of lower-class individuals than the attention of higher-class individuals,” says psychological scientist Pia Dietze of New York University in a statement. “Like other cultural groups, social class affects information processing in a pervasive and spontaneous manner.”

The behavior of people are influenced by the classes they belong to, and previous studies have shown that a variety of  behavioral differences such as levels of compassion, interpersonal engagement, charity, ethicality, and empathy toward others are seen among people of various social classes.

In the study published in the journal Psychological Science, the team examined how the participants’ social class affects how relevant they are to others in terms of their own goals and motivations.  They found that people belonging to high privileged backgrounds spent less time looking at others compared to those belonging to less privilege background.

The study further revealed that the upper classes are likely to be less dependent on others socially and are less likely to view other people as potentially rewarding, threatening, or otherwise worth paying attention. In other words, for wealthy people, other people hold less ‘motivational relevance’ – the evaluation of degree of worthiness of one’s attention based on how much rewarding, threatening or worth attending to the person or object is.

In another study, 61 pedestrians in New York City were given Google Glass. They were told to walk roughly one block and record whatever they were looking at. The participants categorized themselves as belonging to the poor, the working class, the middle class, the upper-middle class, or the upper class. Later when an independent group of raters analyzed the recordings and noted the various people and things each Glass wearer looked at, they found that those who categorized themselves as being in a higher social class spent less time looking at other people than those who placed themselves in a lower social class. Also in two follow-up studies that used more precise eye-tracking technology, the researchers found similar results.

Another experiment which involved 393 participants showed similar results as well. In this experiment, the participants were made to look at alternating pairs of images, each of which contained one face and five objects. When they were asked to identify whether the images were the same or different, participants belonging to higher-class took longer to notice when the face changed compared with lower-class participants. In other words, the study showed that for individuals belonging relatively lower-class backgrounds, faces seem to be more effective in grabbing their attention.

“Our work contributes to a growing knowledge base around the influence of social class background on psychological functioning,” explains Dietze. “The more we know about the effect of social class differences, the better we can address widespread societal issues — this research is just one piece of the puzzle.”

Reference: Social Class and the Motivational Relevance of Other Human Beings Evidence From Visual AttentionPsychological Science