Some rather insufferable little oiks – and Americans, at that – have taken the liberty of examining whether their natural superiors share their own blubbering sensitivity to other people’s feelings.
Showing the grace born of centuries of good breeding, a group of upper class people agreed to examine photos of faces and attempt to decipher what the subjects were feeling. A group of working class people, impelled no doubt by some pecuniary motive, did the same.
A team from the universities of California and Toronto then analysed the results.
They found that the working class people – benefiting, one presumes, from years of practice watching Tricia – were more able to divine the emotions of those depicted.
Unfortunately, being a bunch of ill-bred colonials, the researchers were ignorant enough to use educational attainment as their measure of class for this experiment.
A true aristocrat, of course, cares nothing for education – indeed, when Pater discovered on one of his annual visits to the nursery that I was able to read, he beat me unmercifully and threw my favourite pony to the hounds.
However, in another experiment asking people to read a stranger’s emotions during a mock interview, the team gained similar results using self-reported socio-economic status as a measure.
And while there’s a well-known tendency for those from some of the more minor public schools (Rugby and Winchester leap to mind) to assert that they are in some way separate from the working class, we feel this is at the least a less error-prone measure.
The researchers conclude that people of lower social class are more likely to care about other people’s feelings as they are more dependent upon a system of mutual support.
For example, says Michael W Kraus of the University of California, San Francisco, if you can’t afford to pay for a nanny for your children, you have to rely on neighbours or relatives.
“It’s all about the social context the person lives in, and the specific challenges the person faces,” he says.
Kraus and his team then investigated whether it was possible to render people more sensitive to others’ feelings by making them believe they were of a lower social class than they actually were. It worked.
“If you can shift the context even temporarily, social class differences in any number of behaviours can be eliminated,” he says.
Of course, it must be said that, really, emotions are a rather non-U phenomenon altogether. One only has to consider the restraint and decorum shown by our dear royal family after the death of a family member who, let us not forget, was practically from a council estate herself.