....in a 2016 study, [Michael Varnum, a neuroscientist at Arizona State University] and colleagues found evidence suggesting that people from lower social classes have a more sensitive mirror neuron system — which is thought to simulate the things you see others experience — when watching a video of hand movements. “Our cognitive systems, the degree to which they’re attuned to other people in the environment, is affected by our own social class,” he says.
Another study, out last October in Psychological Science, further shows how attention breaks down along class lines. A research team lead by NYU doctoral candidate Pia Dietze measured participants’ attunement to people or things in three different experiments. In the first, they stopped 61 people on New York City streets, and asked them to put on a Google Glass device and walk around one block for about a minute, looking at whatever captured their gaze — with higher-class participants having reliably shorter “social gazes,” or the amount of time dwelling at each individual person. In a second experiment, a total of 158 undergrads were recruited to look at 41 photographs of different cities. Here, working-class participants had a 25 percent longer dwell time, on average, than upper-middle-class peers. In a third experiment, almost 400 participants recruited online had to determine if icons depicting people or objects changed in the course of milliseconds — and consistent with the other results, working-class people were faster in catching changes in faces than upper-middle-class participants. Together, the results show “social class cultures can influence social attention (attention towards human) in a deep and pervasive manner,” Dietze says. Your class shapes the “ecology” that you grow up in, and that anchors your habits of attention.
There are multiple interpretations for why lower-class people are more attuned to people around them. It may be that growing up poorer means that you have to rely on others more; it may also mean that you live in a less-secure environment, so you need to attend to others to keep yourself safe. Varnum and Dietze presented at this year’s meeting of Society for Personality and Social Psychology, where I met them, and Varnum says that each study speaks to a broader notion of how higher-status people are more focused on their own goals and desires. They also ignore people a little more, maybe because they can afford to. “If you have more power and status, you may not have to care as much about what people are thinking and feeling; and also, if you’re in a resource-scarce environment, where things are a little more unpredictable and maybe a little more dangerous, it would be very adaptive to pay attention to others, how they’re feeling and what they’re going to do,” he says. In many ways, privilege is invisible; it also shapes what’s visible to us.How Rich People See the World Differently -- Science of Us