Here’s a scientific explanation for why rich people think they’re better than everyone

In cognitive assessments and trivia tests, upper-class people assumed they'd perform better than others.

caption
In cognitive assessments and trivia tests, upper-class people assumed they’d perform better than others.
source
mark peterson/Corbis via Getty Images

  • It’s official: Rich people really do think they’re better than everybody else.
  • People born into higher social classes are more overconfident and have “an exaggerated belief” that they will perform better than others, more so than those in lower classes, a new study found.
  • Researchers had thousands of people from diverse social classes take cognitive assessments and trivia tests, then asked them how they thought they fared compared with others.
  • People with more education, higher income, and a higher perceived social class were more overconfident, leading judges to deem them to be more competent, the study found.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Some may have long suspected it, but now science has confirmed it: Rich people really do believe they’re better than everybody else.

People born into higher social classes are more overconfident and have “an exaggerated belief” that they will perform better at certain tasks than others, a perception not shared by their lower-class counterparts, a new study published Monday in the prestigious Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found.

These findings help clear up the common misconception that everyone thinks they’re better than the average person, according to the study’s lead author.

“Our results suggest that this type of thinking might be more prevalent among the middle and upper classes,” Peter Belmi, a professor at the University of Virginia and the lead author of the study, said in a press release.

People with higher income, more education, and a higher perceived social class have an

caption
People with higher income, more education, and a higher perceived social class have an “exaggerated belief” they’ll perform better than others, a study found.
source
Jason McCawley/Getty Images

The study included a series of experiments looking at the connection between social class and overconfidence.

In one experiment, researchers looked at more than 150,000 small-business owners in Mexico who were applying for loans and got information about their income, education level, and perceived standing in society. The applicants were asked to take psychological assessments – which included a flashcard memory game – to determine their creditworthiness.

After the assessments, applicants were asked to rate how they thought they did compared with others, on a scale of 1 to 100.

The wealthier, upper-class participants were convinced they would perform better than others

The researchers found that those with more education, higher income, and a higher perceived social class had “an exaggerated belief that they would perform better than others, compared with their lower-class counterparts,” the press release said.

Other experiments entailed giving participants a trivia test and then having them come back a week later for a videotaped mock hiring interview. More than 900 judges then watched the videos and rated how competent they found each applicant.

The judges deemed the overconfident upper-class people to be more competent.

“Individuals with relatively high social class were more overconfident, which in turn was associated with being perceived as more competent and ultimately more hirable, even though, on average, they were no better at the trivia test than their lower-class counterparts,” Belmi said.

The disparity may come down to how people in different social classes are raised

“In the middle class, people are socialized to differentiate themselves from others, to express what they think and feel and to confidently express their ideas and opinions, even when they lack accurate knowledge,” Belmi said.

Working-class people, on the other hand, are taught to embrace humility and the importance of “knowing your place” in the social hierarchy, according to Belmi.

The encouragement of individualism and confidence can lead to greater success for those in the upper class.

“Advantages beget advantages,” Belmi said. “Those who are born in upper-class echelons are likely to remain in the upper class, and high-earning entrepreneurs disproportionately originate from highly educated, well-to-do families.”

Belmi added: “Our research suggests that social class shapes the attitudes that people hold about their abilities and that, in turn, has important implications for how class hierarchies perpetuate from one generation to the next.”

Belmi’s isn’t the first study to find that wealthy people have skewed perceptions of themselves

In a 2015 study on empathy, the neuroscientist Michael Varnum conducted a brain-imaging study of 58 participants, who were first asked about their social class, including questions about their family income and parents’ education, as Drake Baer reported for New York magazine.

The participants then took EEG tests, which track electrical activity in the brain, while being shown images of both neutral faces and faces expressing pain.

“In something of a dark irony, the respondents of higher socioeconomic status rated themselves as more empathic – a ‘better-than-average effect’ that Varnum followed up on in a separate study – when in reality the opposite was true,” Baer wrote. The study actually found that the upper-class participants had lower neural responses to others’ pain.

But it’s not only the wealthy who can have skewed perceptions of themselves.

As Business Insider’s Hillary Hoffower previously reported, a recent survey by INSIDER and Morning Consult found that people’s self-designated social class didn’t always align with their income. Some Americans who earn less than $50,000 said they felt rich, while others who earn more than $100,000 said they felt poor.