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Affluent less likely to help others in crisis

Posted on Sep 02, 01:46PM | IANS

The have-nots reach out to one another in times of crisis or natural disasters but the wealthy are more likely to isolate themselves to safeguard privileges.

So says a study at the University of California-Berkeley led by Paul Piff, post-doctoral scholar in psychology.

"In times of uncertainty, we see a dramatic polarisation, with the rich more focused on holding onto and attaining wealth and the poor spending more time with friends and loved ones," Piff said.

Results from five separate experiments shed new light on how humans from varying socio-economic backgrounds may respond to both natural and man-made disasters.

These include economic recession, political instability, earthquakes and hurricanes, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reports.

Asked if they would move across the country for a higher-paying job, participants from the lower class responded they would decline in favour of staying close to friends, family and colleagues.

Conversely, upper class participants opted to take the job and cut ties with their community, according to a university statement.

The study posits that "material wealth may be a particularly salient, accessible and preferred individual coping mechanism... when they are threatened by perceptions of chaos within the social environment".

In a lab setting, researchers induced various psychological states in their subjects -- such as uncertainty, helplessness or anxiety -- so they could accurately assess how social class shapes the likelihood of people turning to others or to wealth in the face of perceived chaos.

Chaos is defined in the study as "the feeling that the world is unknown, unpredictable, seemingly random".

This uncertainty typically triggers either a fight-or-flight or a "tend-and-befriend" response, which researchers used to assess participants reactions to induced stress.

The results showed that the upper class were less likely than the lower class and minorities to anticipate financial instability.

Lower-class participants who expected more turmoil in their lives were more likely to turn to community to cope with perceived chaos, the study found.