Guessing someone's status based on clothing and the size of their home is not too difficult, but what about more subtle clues?
Psychologists Michael W Kraus and Dacher Keltner of the University of California, Berkeley, (UC-B) wanted to see if non-verbal cues or body language indicated our socio-economic status (SES).
To test this idea, the researchers videotaped participants as they got to know one another in one-on-one interview sessions.
During these taped sessions, researchers looked for two types of behaviours: disengagement behaviours (including fidgeting with personal objects and doodling) and engagement behaviours (including head nodding, laughing and eye contact).
The results reveal that nonverbal cues can give away a person's SES. Volunteers whose parents were from upper SES backgrounds displayed more disengagement-related behaviours compared to participants from lower SES backgrounds.
In addition, when a separate group of observers was shown 60-second clips of the videos, they were able to correctly guess the participants' SES background, based on their body language.
The researchers note this is the first study to show a relation between SES and social engagement behaviour. They surmise that people from upper SES backgrounds who are wealthy and have access to prestigious institutions tend to be less dependent on others, said a UC-B release.
"This lack of dependence among upper SES people is displayed in their nonverbal behaviours during social interactions," the psychologists concluded.
The results were reported in Psychological Science.