Growing up working class gives people social skills that help broaden their perspective during conflicts.
There’s an apparent paradox in modern life: Society as a whole is getting smarter, yet we aren’t any closer to figuring out how to all get along. “How is it possible that we have just as many, if not more, conflicts as before?” asks social psychologist Igor Grossmann at the University of Waterloo in Canada.
The answer is that raw intelligence doesn’t reduce conflict, he asserts. Wisdom does. Such wisdom—in effect, the ability to take the perspectives of others into account and aim for compromise—comes much more naturally to those who grow up poor or working class, according to a new study by Grossman and colleagues.
“This work represents the cutting edge in wisdom research,” says Eranda Jayawickreme, a social psychologist at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
To conduct the study, Grossmann and his graduate student Justin Brienza embarked on a two-part experiment. First, they asked 2145 people throughout the United States to take an online survey. Participants were asked to remember a recent conflict they had with someone, such as an argument with a spouse or a fight with a friend. They then answered 20 questions applicable to that or any conflict, including: “Did you ever consider a third-party perspective?” “How much did you try to understand the other person’s viewpoint?” and “Did you consider that you might be wrong?”