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By Steven G. Mehta

In Los Angeles, the courts have been using the “one day, one trial” system for quite a while.  As part of that system, the pool of jurors has increased dramatically.  Before that system was enacted many professionals such as architects, lawyers, accountants, and doctors avoided jury service because of some claim of exigent circumstances.  No more with the one day one trial system.

However, with such greater diversity comes different issues when people from a higher socio-economic class become members of a jury.  One recent study found that although higher socio-economic class people have many economic and educational opportunities, they may be worse at reading the emotions of others.

The new study published in Psychological Science finds that lower socio-economic class people are better at reading the emotions of others.

The researchers theorized that for lower socio-economic class people, they must rely more on other individuals because they cannot afford to buy the service or good, and therefore, they must develop people assessment skills for survival.  For example, if you can’t afford to buy daycare service for your children, you have to rely on your neighbors or relatives to watch the kids while you attend classes or run errands, says Michael W. Kraus of the University of California-San Francisco.

Over the course of several studies involving computer images and job interviews, the research consistently revealed that people with more education performed worse on the task of determining people’s emotions and mental state than people with less education.

These results suggest that people of upper-class status aren’t very good at recognizing the emotions other people are feeling. The researchers speculate that this is because they can solve their problems, like the daycare example, without relying on others — they aren’t as dependent on the people around them.

Interestingly, the researchers conducted a final experiment where subjects were made to feel that they were at a lower social class than they actually were.  In that circumstance, the people got better at reading emotions. “It’s the cultural context leading to these differences,” says Kraus.   He says this work helps show that stereotypes about the classes are wrong. “It’s not that a lower-class person, no matter what, is going to be less intelligent than an upper-class person. It’s all about the social context the person lives in, and the specific challenges the person faces. If you can shift the context even temporarily, social class differences in any number of behaviors can be eliminated.”

This research is interesting for several reasons.  First, attorneys are among the highest educated attaining at least 7 years of college and graduate education.  Often attorneys are making judgments about the credibility of witnesses and parties.  It is helpful to recognize that as attorneys – because of their socio-economic class, that they may not be as good as they think they are in judging the mental state of others.

Second, it is interesting to note that many people believe that the higher socio-economic factors lead to more conservative jurors.  It could be possible that those jurors are more conservative in their decisions because they are not as effective as reading the emotions of the parties and witnesses and therefore err on the side of being conservative in their decisions.

Finally, all is not lost.  According to the research, the ability to read people can be learned. There is much literature on how to read people, how to read non-verbal gestures, and other such items.

Research Source:

M. W. Kraus, S. Cote, D. Keltner. Social Class, Contextualism, and Empathic AccuracyPsychological Science, 2010; 21 (11): 1716 DOI:10.1177/0956797610387613

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