When it comes to reading others emotions, lower-class people are better than individuals from upper-class.
The study was prompted by observations that for lower-class people success depends more on how much they can rely on other individuals.
Researchers conducted one experiment on volunteers who worked at a university. Some had graduated and others had not, with educational level used as a proxy for social class.
The volunteers did a test of emotion perception, where they were instructed to look at pictures of faces and indicate which emotions each face was displaying. People with more education performed worse on the task than people with less education.
In another study, university students who were of higher social standing had a more difficult time accurately reading the emotions of a stranger during a group job interview.
These results suggested that people of upper-class status were not very good at recognising the emotions other people are feeling, the researchers said.
Study authors Michael W. Kraus of the University of California-San Francisco, Stephane Cote of the University of Toronto and Dacher Keltner of the University of California-Berkeley speculate that this is because they can solve their problems without relying on others - they aren't as dependent on the people around them.
A final experiment found that, when people were made to feel that they were at a lower social class than they actually were, they got better at reading emotions.
This shows that 'it's not something ingrained in the individual', said Kraus adding, "It's the cultural context leading to these differences".
He said their work helps show that stereotypes about the classes are wrong.
"It's not that a lower-class person, no matter what, is going to be less intelligent than an upper-class person. It's all about the social context the person lives in, and the specific challenges the person faces. If you can shift the context even temporarily, social class differences in any number of behaviours can be eliminated," Kraus added.
The study is published in Psychological Science.