Money Talks: Social Class at Convention

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Some of you may know that I serve on CSES. Just in case you have been inundated with acronyms over the last week, CSES stands for the Committee on Socioeconomic Status and resides under the Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest (BAPPI). Over the last few years, social class issues have gained some significant momentum. The Recession of 2008, the Occupy Wall Street movement, rising inequality and the work of several national political representatives have brought social class concerns to the forefront of the nation’s collective consciousness.

As a result, several very important presentations and activities occurred at the APA convention concerning SES. Here are a few highlights.

The hashtag #StopSkippingClass is a CSES initiative to continue the discussion around social class issues on social media. This campaign was launched in memory of the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty introduced by President Lyndon B. Johnson. CSES members asked psychologists from around the convention to tweet, post on Facebook, or hold a sign completing the sentence ” Poverty is …

Here is an example of Ramani Durvasala, Ph.D. holding her sign at the CSES Business Meeting.

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In addition, Paul Piff, PhD, led a plenary session Saturday called “What’s Social about Social Class.” Piff has appeared on NPR, television, in The Wall Street Journal, and even did a TED Talk: Does Money Make You Mean. His TED talk, which has had some  2 million downloads, focuses on how people’s social class impacts their moral reasoning. In the session, Piff described several of his studies that appear to indicate that in American culture, those who are identified or made to feel like they have a higher social class are more likely to engage in “utilitarian” style thinking and be self focused. A few of the interesting studies he conducted have fascinating research designs, such as looking at how much candy people were willing to steal from children, how willing people were to cheat on a game, and whether owning a luxury car makes people more likely to cut off pedestrians. The consensus is that those with a lower social class (or those that are made to feel like they have a lower social class) tend to act more moral, caring and empathetic toward others. This contrasts with the stereotype that low-income people are more likely to steal or try to take advantage of others.

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Although there were many other presentations and activities, the last one I want to focus on was student driven. At the APAGS booth, they had a great study/art activity going on. They had a board set up with different dollar amounts across a spectrum. Students were asked to take stickers and indicate what their total student debt would be at the completion of their degree. They were also asked what strategy they would be using to pay of this debt. This allowed for a visual representation of how inflation and rising tuition have affected students. On Saturday, the numbers varied, but many stickers hovered around the $100,000 mark, which should be of serious concern for all APA members. APAGS has completed a report on student debt, which they will be discussing over the next year. When it’s released, I implore psychologists to move toward  action on loan forgiveness legislation.

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