Social Class, Contextualism, and Empathic Accuracy

Michael W. Kraus, Stéphane Côté, Dacher Keltner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent research suggests that lower-class individuals favor explanations of personal and political outcomes that are oriented to features of the external environment. We extended this work by testing the hypothesis that, as a result, individuals of a lower social class are more empathically accurate in judging the emotions of other people. In three studies, lower-class individuals (compared with upper-class individuals) received higher scores on a test of empathic accuracy (Study 1), judged the emotions of an interaction partner more accurately (Study 2), and made more accurate inferences about emotion from static images of muscle movements in the eyes (Study 3). Moreover, the association between social class and empathic accuracy was explained by the tendency for lower-class individuals to explain social events in terms of features of the external environment. The implications of class-based patterns in empathic accuracy for well-being and relationship outcomes are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1716-1723
Number of pages8
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • emotion
  • empathic accuracy
  • social class
  • social power
  • socioeconomic status

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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