ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2018, Vol. 50 ›› Issue (2): 243-252.

### Social class and social perception: Is warmth or competence more important?

WEI Qingwang; LI Muzi; CHEN Xiaochen

1.  (Department of Psychology, Renmin University of China, Beijing 100872, China)
• Received:2017-02-20 Published:2018-02-25 Online:2017-12-26
• Contact: CHEN Xiaochen, E-mail: xiaochenchen@ruc.edu.cn
• Supported by:

Abstract:  Warmth and competence are the two fundamental dimensions (i.e. Big Two) in social cognition. According to the Dual Perspective Model (DPM), warmth is the primacy of the Big Two and the Big Two are differentially linked to the actor (self) vs. observer (other) perspectives. In the observer perspective, warmth is more relevant and more important; whereas in the actor perspective, competence is more relevant and more important. Another domain of literature on social class psychology suggested that lower-class individuals were more sensitive to external environment and valued interdependent self; whereas upper-class individuals were more self-focused and valued independent self. The current study combined these two domains of literature and examined possible moderating role of social class on the link between the Big Two and the actor vs. observer perspectives. Specifically, we hypothesized that both lower-class individuals and upper-class individuals would value warmth more than competence in evaluating others, and this primacy of warmth would be more evident for lower-class individuals (H1). In contrast, lower-class individuals would also value warmth more than competence whereas upper-class individuals would value competence more than warmth when evaluating themselves (H2). Two studies were carried out to test these hypotheses. In Study 1, 122 undergraduate participants were presented with a list of 8 sentences each describing a behavior of a stranger. The behavioral acts were deliberately chosen to be amenable to both warmth and competence traits. Participants were asked to use a single word to describe the character of the subject in each sentence. Information on participants’ objective socioeconomic status (SES, family income and highest parental education level) was also collected. In Study 2, 137 community participants were asked to rate the importance of 12 traits (6 on warmth dimension, 6 on competence dimension) in evaluating themselves. The MacArthur scale was used to assess participants’ subjective social class rank. In Study 1, more warm words (as compared to words on the competence dimension) were chosen to describe the character of the subjects in the sentences. This pattern was consistent among both lower- and upper-class individuals. In addition, lower-class individuals used significantly more warm words than upper-class participants. In Study 2, lower-class individuals scored significantly higher on warmth than competence. Contrary, upper-class individuals scored significantly higher on competence than warmth. Taken together, findings from these two studies provided evidences to support our hypotheses. The current study contributes to the social cognition literature by integrating the DPM and social class psychology. Social class does influence the primacy of warmth vs. competence as demonstrated previously in DPM. The primacy of warmth in evaluating others is more typical for lower-class individuals and the primacy of competence in evaluating themselves is more typical for upper-class individuals. Moreover, DPM further develops the ideas of social class psychology. Lower-class individuals showing contextual social cognitive tendencies and upper-class individuals showing solipsistic social cognitive tendencies are reflected very well in the primacy of warmth vs. competence in evaluating others vs. themselves. Uncovering the nuances in social cognition between lower and upper classes also provides important practical implications to promote healthy inter-class communications.

CLC Number: