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UBCO study finds people with lower social status more likely to distrust policy-makers

A UBC Okanagan study has found a link between social status and perceptions of power. Courtesy: UBC Okanagan

A recent UBC Okanagan study has found that people who have a lower social status are more likely to have a negative view of decision-makers.

A survey of more than 1,000 participants looked at people’s perceptions of how policy-makers came to power, and whether they believed it was through manipulation and fear-mongering or through collaboration and respect.

People who are lower on the social ladder are generally less-trusting and more likely to hold a less collaborative view of power, according to the university’s results. People with higher socioeconomic status were the opposite.

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“We also found that people held one theory of power or the other — but not both simultaneously,” said Leanne ten Brinke, an assistant psychology professor.

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“As income inequality continues to rise, and we have a widening gap between the powerful and powerless, these results help us understand how these groups view the human hierarchy in which they live.”

However, it’s not clear where the income cut-off is that leads to a more positive perception of power, she said.

Ten Brinke said she was inspired to do the study while doing a post-doctoral degree at the University of California Berkely during the 2016 presidential election.

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“(I) remember being so struck by the different approaches to power being used by then-candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump,” she said. “It occurred to me then that people have very different perspectives on what it takes to get to the top.”

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Ten Brinke believes that further investigation might be helpful in understanding why some people don’t vote or follow public health guidelines.

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