Arquivo da tag: Classes sociais

A Brief History of the “Testocracy,” Standardized Testing and Test-Defying (Truthout)

Wednesday, 25 March 2015 00:00

By Jesse Hagopian, Haymarket Books | Book Excerpt 

CHICAGO- 24 April, 2013: Demonstrator holds sign at a rally against school closings and over testing. (Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)

Demonstrators rally against school closings and testing in Chicago, April 24, 2013. (Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)

“We are experiencing the largest ongoing revolt against high-stakes standardized testing in US history,” according to Jesse Hagopian, high school history teacher, education writer and editor of More Than a Score. This remarkable book introduces the educators, students, parents and others who make up the resistance movement pushing back against the corporate “testocracy.” Click here to order More Than a Score today by making a donation to Truthout!

In this excerpt from More Than a Score, Jesse Hagopian explains who the “testocracy” are, what they want – for everybody else’s children and for their own – and why more people than ever before are resisting tests and working collectively to reclaim public education.

Who are these testocrats who would replace teaching with testing? The testocracy, in my view, does not only refer to the testing conglomerates—most notably the multibillion-dollar Pearson testing and textbook corporation—that directly profit from the sale of standardized exams. The testocracy is also the elite stratum of society that finances and promotes competition and privatization in public education rather than collaboration, critical thinking, and the public good. Not dissimilar to a theocracy, under our current testocracy, a deity—in this case the exalted norm-referenced bubble exam—is officially recognized as the civil ruler of education whose policy is governed by officials that regard test results as divine. The testocratic elite are committed to reducing the intellectual and emotional process of teaching and learning to a single number—a score they subsequently use to sacrifice education on the altar devoted to high-stakes testing by denying students promotion or graduation, firing teachers, converting schools into privatized charters, or closing schools altogether. You’ve heard of this program; the testocracy refers to it as “education reform.”

Among the most prominent members of the testocracy are some of the wealthiest people the world has ever known.

Among the most prominent members of the testocracy are some of the wealthiest people the world has ever known. Its tsars include billionaires Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and members of the Walton family (the owners of Walmart), who have used their wealth to circumvent democratic processes and impose test-and-punish policies in public education. They fund a myriad of organizations—such as Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, Teach for America, and Stand for Children—that serve as shock troops to enforce the implantation of high-stakes testing and corporate education reform in states and cities across the nation. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan serves to help coordinate and funnel government money to the various initiatives of the testocracy. The plan to profit from public schools was expressed by billionaire media executive Rupert Murdoch, when he said in a November 2010 press release: “When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs that extend the reach of great teaching.”

Testing companies got the memo and are working diligently to define great teaching as preparing students for norm-referenced exams—available to districts across the country if the price is right. The textbook and testing industry generates between $20 billion and $30 billion dollars per year. Pearson, a multi-national corporation based in Britain, brings in more than $9 billion annually, and is the world’s largest education company and book publisher. But it’s not the only big testing company poised to profit from the testocracy. Former president George W. Bush’s brother Neil and his parents founded a company called Ignite! Learning to sell test products after the passage of No Child Left Behind.

“An Invalid Measure”: The Fundamental Flaws of Standardized Testing

The swelling number of test-defiers is rooted in the increase of profoundly flawed standardized exams. Often, these tests don’t reflect the concepts emphasized in the students’ classes and, just as often, the results are not available until after the student has already left the teacher’s classroom, rendering the test score useless as a tool for informing instruction. Yet the problem of standardized bubble tests’ usefulness for educators extends well beyond the lag time (which can be addressed by computerized tests that immediately calculate results). A standardized bubble test does not help teachers understand how a student arrived at answer choice “C.” The student may have selected the right answer but not known why it was right, or conversely, may have chosen the wrong answer but had sophisticated reasoning that shows a deeper understanding of the concept than someone else who randomly guessed correctly. Beyond the lack of utility of standardized testing in facilitating learning there is a more fundamental flaw. A norm-referenced, standardized test compares each individual student to everyone else taking the test, and the score is then usually reported as a percentile. Alfie Kohn describes the inherent treachery of the norm-referenced test:

No matter how many students take an NRT [norm-referenced test], no matter how well or poorly they were taught, no matter how difficult the questions are, the pattern of results is guaranteed to be the same: Exactly 10 percent of those who take the test will score in the top 10 percent. And half will always fall below the median. That’s not because our schools are failing; that’s because of what the word median means.

And as professor of education Wayne Au explained in 2011, when he was handed a bullhorn at the Occupy Education protest outside the headquarters of Gates Foundation, “If all the students passed the test you advocate, that test would immediately be judged an invalid metric, and any measure of students which mandates the failure of students is an invalid measure.”

Researchers have long known that what standardized tests measure above all else is a student’s access to resources.

Unsurprisingly, the Gates Foundation was not swayed by the logic of Au’s argument. That is because standardized testing serves to reinforce the mythology of a meritocracy in which those on the top have achieved their position rightfully—because of their hard work, their dedication to hitting the books, and their superior intelligence as proven by their scores. But what researchers have long known is that what standardized tests measure above all else is a student’s access to resources. The most damning truth about standardized tests is that they are a better indicator of a student’s zip code than a student’s aptitude. Wealthier, and predominantly whiter, districts score better on tests. Their scores do not reflect the intelligence of wealthier, mostly white students when compared to those of lower-income students and students of color, but do reflect the advantages that wealthier children have—books in the home, parents with more time to read with them, private tutoring, access to test-prep agencies, high-quality health care, and access to good food, to name a few. This is why attaching high stakes to these exams only serves to exacerbate racial and class inequality. As Boston University economics professors Olesya Baker and Kevin Lang’s 2013 study, “The School to Prison Pipeline Exposed,” reveals, the increases in the use of high-stakes standardized high school exit exams are linked to higher incarceration rates. Arne Duncan’s refusal to address the concerns raised by this study exposes the bankruptcy of testocratic policy.

Hypocrisy of the Testocracy

At first glance it would be easy to conclude that the testocracy’s strategy for public schools is the result of profound ignorance. After all, members of the testocracy have never smelled a free or reduced-price lunch yet throw a tantrum when public school advocates suggest poverty is a substantial factor in educational outcomes. The testocracy has never had to puzzle over the conundrum of having more students than available chairs in the classroom, yet they are the very same people who claim class size doesn’t matter in educational outcomes. The bubble of luxury surrounding the testocracy has convinced many that most testocrats are too far removed from the realities facing the majority of US residents to ever understand the damage caused by the high-stakes bubble tests they peddle. While it is true that the corporate reform moguls are completely out of touch with the vast majority of people, their strategy for remaking our schools on a business model is not the result of ignorance but of arrogance, not of misunderstanding but of the profit motive, not of silliness but rather of a desire for supremacy.

In fact, you could argue that the MAP test boycott did not actually begin at Garfield High School. A keen observer might recognize that the boycott of the MAP test—and so many other standardized tests—began in earnest at schools like Seattle’s elite private Lakeside High School, alma mater of Bill Gates, where he sends his children, because, of course, Lakeside, like one-percenter schools elsewhere, would never inundate its students with standardized tests. These academies, predominantly serving the children of the financially fortunate, shield students from standardized tests because they want their children to be allowed to think outside the bubble test, to develop critical thinking skills and prioritize time to explore art, music, drama, athletics, and debate. Gates values Lakeside because of its lovely campus, where the average class size is sixteen, the library contains some twenty thousand volumes, and the new sports facility offers cryotherapy and hydrotherapy spas. Moreover, while Gates, President Obama, and Secretary of Education Duncan are all parents of school-age children, none of those children attend schools that use the CCSS or take Common Core exams. As Dao X. Tran, then PTA co-chair at Castle Bridge Elementary School, put it (in chapter 20 of More Than a Score): “These officials don’t even send their children to public schools. They are failing our children, yet they push for our children’s teachers to be accountable based on children’s test data. All while they opt for their own children to go to schools that don’t take these tests, that have small class sizes and project-based, hands-on, arts-infused learning—that’s what we want for our children!” The superrich are not failing to understand the basics of how to provide a nurturing education for the whole child. The problem is that they believe this type of education should be reserved only for their own children.

A Brief History of Test-defying

The United States has a long history of using standardized testing for the purposes of ranking and sorting youth into different strata of society. In fact, standardized tests originally entered the public schools with the eugenics movement, a white-supremacist ideology cloaked in the shabby garments of fraudulent science that became fashionable in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As Rethinking Schools editorialized,

The United States has a long history of using intelligence tests to support white supremacy and class stratification. Standardized tests first entered the public schools in the 1920s, pushed by eugenicists whose pseudoscience promoted the “natural superiority” of wealthy, white, U.S.-born males. High-stakes standardized tests have disguised class and race privilege as merit ever since. The consistent use of test scores to demonstrate first a “mental ability” gap and now an “achievement” gap exposes the intrinsic nature of these tests: They are built to maintain inequality, not to serve as an antidote to educational disparities.

When the first “common schools” began in the late 1800s, industrialists quickly recognized an opportunity to shape the schools in the image of their factories. These early “education reformers” recognized the value of using standardized tests—first developed in the form of IQ tests used to sort military recruits for World War I—to evaluate the efficiency of the teacher workforce in producing the “student-product.” Proud eugenicist and Princeton University professor Carl Brigham left his school during World War I to implement IQ testing as an army psychologist. Upon returning to Princeton, Brigham developed the SAT exam as the admissions gatekeeper to Princeton, and the test confirmed in his mind that whites born in the United States were the most intelligent of all peoples. As Alan Stoskopf wrote, “By the early 1920s, more than 2 million American school children were being tested primarily for academic tracking purposes. At least some of the decisions to allocate resources and select students for academic or vocational courses were influenced by eugenic notions of student worth.”

Some of the most important early voices in opposition to intelligence testing came from leading African American scholars.

Resistance to these exams surely began the first time a student bubbled in every “A” on the page in defiance of the entire testing process. Yet, beyond these individual forms of protest, an active minority of educators, journalists, labor groups, and parents resisted these early notions of using testing to rank intelligence. Some of the most important early voices in opposition to intelligence testing—especially in service of ranking the races—came from leading African American scholars such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Horace Mann Bond, and Howard Long. Du Bois recalled in 1940, “It was not until I was long out of school and indeed after the [First] World War that there came the hurried use of the new technique of psychological tests, which were quickly adjusted so as to put black folk absolutely beyond the possibility of civilization.”

In a statement that is quite apparently lost on today’s testocracy, Horace Mann Bond, in his work “Intelligence Tests and Propaganda,” wrote:

But so long as any group of men attempts to use these tests as funds of information for the approximation of crude and inaccurate generalizations, so long must we continue to cry, “Hold!” To compare the crowded millions of New York’s East Side with the children of Morningside Heights [an upper-class neighborhood at the time] indeed involves a great contradiction; and to claim that the results of the tests given to such diverse groups, drawn from such varying strata of the social complex, are in any wise accurate, is to expose a fatuous sense of unfairness and lack of appreciation of the great environmental factors of modern urban life.

This history of test-defiers was largely buried until the mass uprisings of the civil rights and Black Power movements of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s transformed public education. In the course of these broad mass movements, parents, students, teachers, and activists fought to integrate the schools, budget for equitable funding, institute ethnic studies programs, and even to redefine the purpose of school.

In the Jim Crow–segregated South, literacy was inherently political and employed as a barrier to prevent African Americans from exercising their right to vote. The great activist and educator Myles Horton was a founder of the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee that would go on to help organize the Citizenship Schools of the mid-1950s and 1960s. The Citizenship Schools’ mission was to create literacy programs to help disenfranchised Southern blacks achieve access to the voting booth. Hundreds of thousands of African Americans attended the Citizenship Schools, which launched one of the most important educational programs of the civil rights movement, redefining the purpose of education and the assessment of educational outcomes. Horton described one of the Citizenship Schools he helped to organize, saying, “It was not a literacy class. It was a community organization. . . . They were talking about using their citizenship to do something, and they named it a Citizenship School, not a literacy school. That helped with the motivation.” By the end of the class more than 80 percent of those students passed the final examination, which was to go down to the courthouse and register to vote!

What the Testocracy Wants

The great civil rights movements of the past have reimagined education as a means to creating a more just society. The testocracy, too, has a vision for reimagining the education system and it is flat-out chilling. The testocracy is relentlessly working on new methods to reduce students to data points that can be used to rank, punish, and manipulate. Like something out of a dystopian sci-fi film, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation spent $1.4 million to develop bio-metric bracelets designed to send a small current across the skin to measure changes in electrical charges as the sympathetic nervous system responds to stimuli. These “Q Sensors” would then be used to monitor a student’s “excitement, stress, fear, engagement, boredom and relaxation through the skin.” Presumably, then, VAM assessments could be extended to evaluate teachers based on this biometric data. As Diane Ravitch explained to Reuters when the story broke in the spring of 2012, “They should devote more time to improving the substance of what is being taught . . . and give up all this measurement mania.”

But the testocracy remains relentless in its quest to give up on teaching and devote itself to data collection. In a 2011 TIME magazine feature on the future of education, readers are asked to “imagine walking into a classroom and seeing no one in the front of the classroom. Instead you’re led to a computer terminal at a desk and told this will be your teacher for the course. The only adults around are a facilitator to make sure that you stay on task and to fix any tech problems that may arise.” TIME goes on to point out, “For some Florida students, computer-led instruction is a reality. Within the Miami-Dade County Public School district alone, 7,000 students are receiving this form of education, including six middle and K–8 schools, according to the New York Times.” This approach to schooling is known as “e-learning labs,” and from the perspective of the testocracy, if education is about getting a high score, then one hardly needs nurturing, mentorship, or human contact to succeed. Computers can be used to add value—the value of rote memorization, discipline, and basic literacy skills—to otherwise relatively worthless students. Here, then, is a primary objective of an education system run by the testocracy: replace the compassionate hand of the educator with the cold, invisible, all-thumbs hand of the free market.

Um estádio sem cantos (Globo Esporte)

Quarta-feira, 18/06/2014 às 11:57 por David Butter

Quem diria: o pior da Copa é a torcida da seleção brasileira. Não falo da torcida dos bares, das casas e das ruas, de fora dos estádios por falta de condição, gosto ou oportunidade, mas da torcida das arquibancadas. – digo “torcida” por falta de outro termo.

Não, não andamos vendo a vergonha e o banzo circulando de cabeça baixa por aeroportos ou estradas, como imaginavam antes da competição os profetas da catástrofe, e sim pelas cadeiras das arenas “padrão Fifa”. Há algo de triste em quem passa por essas cadeiras: uma modorra atravessada de impaciência e melancolia.

Pois a torcida brasileira desta Copa é, até agora, uma torcida reativa. Até no seu canto mais efusivo (“Sou brasileiro/Com muito orgulho/Com muito amor”), a torcida de estádio parece estar respondendo a alguma ofensa não-enunciada.  É como se o brasileiro entrasse xingado e cuspido nas arenas, e não extraísse disso mais do que a força para dizer: “Eu gosto do que eu sou”.

A torcida brasileira desta Copa não tem canções: tem musiquinhas que caberiam melhor numa festa de firma: expressões vagas de solidariedade e espírito coletivo – praticamente um convite às vaias e aos muxoxos. “Está ruim o salgado”, “que banda horrível é esta”, “aqueles pães-duros economizaram no uísque”: enxergo no torcedor desta Copa o “Mauro da Contabilidade”, um Jekyll chatíssimo que, nas confraternizações de fim de ano, converte-se num Hyde mais chato ainda.

E os Mauros todos converteram nisto a atual “experiência”  de ser ver um jogo da seleção: um investimento individual de tempo (e dinheiro) em troca de algum retorno. A seleção “presta serviços” aos torcedores-consumidores; é uma seleção-bufê, um atração para eventeiros. Cantar qualquer coisa além do cânone santificado pela imprensa e pela publicidade não está no “briefing”.

(Ao fato: a torcida do México berrou por cima da torcida brasileira em Fortaleza. A ponto de me parecer que, para um jogo em Guadalajara, a seleção mexicana deveria encarar o empate como um tropeço.)

O hino se esgota antes da bola rolar. Não há tempo para concursos, nem festivais. Não existe, tampouco, era de ouro de cantoria para se espelhar. O que pode entoar de novo e de firme a torcida brasileira? Funk, sertanejo, paródia obscena, qualquer coisa mais viva, e menos encaixável num anúncio de banco ou sobe-som de telejornal – jogo as opções ao alto, por desespero de causa.

Surpreenda o Brasil, Mauro. Rasgue o abadá. Seja menos convencional uma vez na vida. Tenha algo a contar para seus filhos, algo diferente de “Os mexicanos/chilenos/argentinos me calaram”.

Brazil worried about stadium gentrification at World Cup (Reuters)

Brazil World Cup

Aerial view shows the new rooftop of the Maracana Stadium, which is undergoing renovations.

Felipe Dana/AP

TURIN — The Brazilian government is worried ordinary fans could be priced out of the country’s modernized stadiums in an unwanted legacy from hosting the 2014 World Cup.

Brazil is building two brand new stadiums and remodeling another 10 which will leave the country with a glut of all-seater, state-of-the-art arenas once next year’s tournament is finished.

It will be a new experience for many Brazilian fans who for years have had to put up with dilapidated arenas, dubious catering and overflowing toilets.

The worry is that many of those who provided the throbbing atmosphere at top matches will no longer be able to afford to go to games as administrators look to gentrify the soccer-going public to increase income.

“To have socially exclusive stadiums as a result of the World Cup investments is not the legacy we want,” deputy sports minister Luis Fernandes told Reuters in an interview.

“The government is very concerned with this issue and it has to be addressed very seriously. I think we could have a gentrification of the stadiums.

“Some stadium administrators are quite explicit in saying that, to be economically feasible, they would have to shift the type of attendance at games,” he added.

“It would change from one where what predominates is the so-called D and E class, to one where there will be a heavy predominance of what they call class A and B spectators who will not only buy the tickets but will also consume in the stadium.

“But if you want to shift the social origin of the spectators so you can have people that can afford to buy other merchandise and food besides tickets, that could be a negative side effect.”

Until recently, there has been almost nothing to buy inside Brazilian stadiums apart from rudimentary fast food and soft drinks. Supporters often prefer to buy counterfeit merchandise from unlicensed street vendors, known as camelos, in front of the stadium.

Nine of Brazil’s 12 World Cup stadiums are owned by the governments of the respective states and will be handed over to private administrators who will hope to make money from selling merchandise inside.

“Football had and has a very central role in building national identity in Brazil,” added Fernandes. “So we are very concerned with that aspect and will be dealing with it in terms of national and state legislation.”

A similar phenomenon has already taken place in England where stadiums have improved vastly over the past 20 years, but working-class fans have been priced out and replaced by middle-class ones.

However, while the shift in England, was built on the back of growing popularity for football, attendances at many Brazilian games are shrinking with an average of 13,000 for last year’s national championship first division.

Fans of Cruzeiro have already noticed the difference. Cheapest tickets for some of the team’s matches have cost 60 Reais ($29.87) since the re-opening of Belo Horizonte’s Mineirao stadium.

Meanwhile, cheapest tickets for the re-opening the Castelao stadium in Fortaleza cost 50 Reais for a double bill of matches in the local state championship, more than at many European first division clubs.

Fernandes pointed out that soccer had such a strong influence in Brazil that memories of the 1950 tournament, which the country hosted but the team lost to Uruguay in the deciding match, were still dragged up.

“It has deep historical, roots,” he said, explaining that Brazilians suffered from what writer Nelson Rodrigues described as “the stray dog complex”.

“Brazilians suffered an inferiority complex and when we lost that match against Uruguay, it reinforced that,” he said. “We were the stray dogs and the others were the pedigrees.

“People felt condemned to be inferior. Football was the first area which inspired national pride up, where we thought Brazil can do it.”

© 2013 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

Read More: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/soccer/news/20130422/brazil-world-cup-stadium-gentrification/#ixzz2RJKId1TK

Multiplying the Old Divisions of Class in Britain (N.Y.Times)

By SARAH LYALL

Published: April 3, 2013

LONDON — Class in Britain used to be a relatively simple matter, or at least it used to be treated that way. It came in three flavors — upper, middle and working — and people supposedly knew by some mysterious native sixth sense exactly where they stood. As the very tall John Cleese declared to the less-tall Ronnie Corbett in the famous 1966 satirical television sketch meant to illustrate class attitudes in Britain — or, possibly, attitudes toward class attitudes — “I look down on him, because I am upper class.”

From left: John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett in a video still from a satirical British TV sketch illustrating class. And height.

It is not as easy as all that, obviously. The 2010 election was enlivened at one point by a perfectly serious discussion of whether David Cameron, now the prime minister, counted as upper upper-middle class, or lower upper-middle class. But on Wednesday, along came the BBC, muddying the waters with a whole new set of definitions.

Having commissioned what it called The Great British Class Survey, an online questionnaire filled out by more than 161,000 people, the BBC concluded that in today’s complicated world, there are now seven different social classes. (“As if three weren’t annoying enough,” a woman named Laura Phelps said on Twitter.) These range from the “elite” at the top, distinguished by money, connections and rarefied cultural interests, to the “precariat” at the bottom, characterized by lack of money, lack of connections and unrarefied cultural interests.

That might sound kind of familiar, but Fiona Devine, a sociologist who helped devise the study, said, “It’s what’s in the middle which is really interesting and exciting.”

The middle categories, as the study defines them, include the “technical middle class,” a group that has a lot of money but few superior social connections or cultural activity; the “emergent service workers,” a young, urban group that has little money but a high amount of social and cultural capital; and the “new affluent workers,” who score high on social and cultural activity, but have only a middling amount of money.

“There’s a much more fuzzy area between the traditional working class and the traditional middle class,” Ms. Devine, a professor of sociology at Manchester University, said in remarks accompanying the research. “The survey has really allowed us to drill down and get a much more complete picture of class in modern Britain.”

Not everyone sees it that way. In a country that is not sure whether it is (a.) obsessed with class, or (b.) merely obsessed with whether it is as obsessed about class as it used to be (if it ever really was), the survey got widespread attention. But some Britons thought the researchers had not considered the correct criteria.

“There are only two classes: those with tattoos, and those without,” said one Daily Mail reader, commenting on the paper’s article about the new categories.

Another wrote: “What are they called in ‘Brave New World’? Alphas, Betas, Gammas and Epsilons? That’s well on the way to becoming a factual book. We already have most of the population on ‘Soma,’ ” a reference to the antidepressant in the book.

The study was published in the journal Sociology and conducted by Ms. Devine in conjunction with Mike Savage, a professor of sociology at the London School of Economics, and the BBC Lab UK.

Throwing out the old formula by which class was defined according to occupation, wealth and education, it created in its place a definition calculated according to “economic capital,” which includes income and savings; “social capital,” which refers to whom one knows from among 37 different occupations; and “cultural capital,” which is defined as the sorts of cultural interests one pursues, from a list of 27.

In the 1950s, the author Nancy Mitford argued that it was possible to tell which class people were in — upper class (“U”) or not upper class (“non-U”) — according to their choice of vocabulary. U-speakers said “rich” and “jam,” she observed, while non-U speakers said “wealthy” and “preserves,” among other things.

(“Almost everyone I know has some personal antipathy which they condemn as middle class quite irrationally,” Evelyn Waugh wrote in response. “My mother-in-law believes it is middle class to decant claret.”)

Mitford was being mischievous, except that she kind of wasn’t, since she was describing the way people actually spoke. In conjunction with today’s study, the BBC offered a modern adaptation of the Mitford test, a handy do-it-yourself online class calculator.

In their report, the researchers acknowledged that their Web survey showed a large amount of bias, in that the type of people who filled it out were the type of people inclined to fill out BBC surveys (well educated, and 90 percent white, for instance). So they conducted a separate face-to-face survey of 1,026 nationally representative people and then combined the two sets of results, arriving at the seven categories.

Cary L. Cooper, a professor at Lancaster University and the chairman of the Academy of Social Sciences, said that what he found intriguing was not what the study said about different social categories, but rather what it said about people’s desire to place themselves in one or another such category .

“People love filling in questionnaires,” Mr. Cooper said in an interview. “From a psychologists’ point of view, it’s very interesting that they love to pigeonhole themselves — ‘I am that kind of person,’ ‘No matter what people like to say, I am an X.’ ”

Britain remains a “status-conscious society,” he said, especially at times of social and economic insecurity. He attributed the public’s love of “Downton Abbey” and other class-related nostalgic entertainment to a yearning for a time when things were simpler, when “even though there was a rigid class system, at least it was stable.”

Back on the Daily Mail Web site, readers continued to debate the conclusions, and the limitations, of the BBC research.

“I couldn’t find ‘awesome’ class,” one commenter complained.

Another wrote: “What rubbish. Only three classes, working, middle and wealthy. You either have money, no money or some money.”

Favelas: preservar o quê? (riorealblog.com)

By Julia Michaels

Posted on December 23, 2012

Um mundo na van

SONY DSC

Não existe ônibus direto para Copacabana, vindo da avenida Brasil, altura da passarela nove, Parque União.  Então, o jeito é andar de van. Só que o caminho até o ponto é um desafio mortal.

“Há cracudos,” avisa Jailson de Souza e Silva, fundador do Observatório de Favelas, “e eles avançam. Conhecem as caras das pessoas, e avançam em quem tem cara de gringo.” Ele pede para uma funcionária fazer o papel de guardacostas. No caminho, a acompanhante opina que o governo devia colocar os viciados para trabalhar. “Podiam estampar camisetas,” sugere.

thinktank Observatório de Favelas é localizado na beirada do Complexo da Maré, uma coleção de 16 favelas e conjuntos habitacionais espremidos entre a avenida Brasil e a baía de Guanabara. A pacificação não chegou ainda à Maré. Souza e  Silva morou lá sete anos, e mais onze numa favela perto da Penha.

O interior da van, quase totalmente ocupada, é escuro, fresco, sonorizado de samba. O ar está ligado e os vidros estão abertos, para aproveitar a brisa de uma das últimas tardes de primavera carioca. Não se demora muito para sair, mas na hora da partida aparece uma mulher negra, repleta de curvas e megahair. O motorista, rapaz sólido de olhos doces e redondos, para, desce, e deixa-a subir para se sentar na metade de um lugar na frente, junto a ele e mais duas mulheres.

Mas nem se andou meio metro e alguém lembra que a polícia está por aí na avenida, entre os viciados, de moto, sirene, e revólver, feita pastor de zumbi– espalhando fieis. O motorista para novamente, a bonitona desce, dá volta, e sobe na parte traseira da van, para ficar em pé junto ao cobrador.

Ponto de van e de mototáxi

Ponto de van e de mototáxi

Co-autor do recém-lançado livro O Novo Carioca, Souza e Silva faz parte de um grupo de pensadores e agitadores no Rio de Janeiro, que observa e encoraja o surgimento do tal “Novo Carioca”. Trata-se de pessoas, na sua maioria jovens, que aproveitam cada vez mais a cidade. Aventuram-se por bairros e morros, fazendo conexões e amizades, criando e participando em uma gama de manifestações culturais. A integração urbana– e a cara futura da cidade– dizem os autores do livro, dependem muito do novo carioca.

De acordo com Souza e Silva, “[…] não existe uma identidade carioca independente das favelas […] a cidade tornou-se uma referência nacional e internacional também em função do peso arquitetônico, cultural e social de seus espaços favelados. A garantia dessa riqueza paisagística e dessa pluralidade cultural é central para o Rio de Janeiro”, conforme ele escreve no livro.

Jailson de Souza e Silva

Dali a alguns metros, passados vários cracudos solitários e em grupo, alguns no meio fio,  depois da polícia, a van encosta. O motorista e a moça descem, ela dá volta,  e sobe para ficar novamente no meio, ao lado dele, na frente. E o samba brada. A viagem recomeça, a van entrando numa passarela de retorno ao outro lado da avenida. Do alto, mais cracudos a vista.

“Vamos parar pro diesel,” avisa o cobrador. Ninguém diz nada, mas ele– saradão, de tênis, regata e bermuda, cabeça raspada menos um topete aloirado e encaracolado, de tatuagens, pede desculpas. O motorista queria encher o tanque antes, mas não deu. O cobrador desliza a porta e desce para cuidar do combustível. O posto também vende empadas, e pela porta aberta o motorista e o frentista trocam comentários engraçadinhos porém herméticos para quem é de fora, sobre empadões.

Passa uma mulher negra de soutien roxo e micro saia de material elástico e barato, descalça, pedindo esmola no balcāo das empadas. Passa um rapaz de muletas, faltando uma perna.

Há pouco, Souza e Silva disse que nunca quis sair da favela. “Não é verdade que as pessoas queiram sair da favela,” falou. “Eu sou o exemplo mais concreto. Eu só me mudei da favela– eu fiz uma ótima casa na favela– porque a guerra tornou impossível criar meu filho na favela […] se fóssemos só eu e minha mulher não sairíamos, mas criar um filho com isso, com bala perdida o tempo inteiro, sem poder andar na rua, porque tem jovens com fuzis, e a policia desrespeitando o morador– foi isso que me fez sair da favela. Onde eu morava tinha coleta de esgoto, calçamento, comercio imenso, grau de solidariedade com as pessoas, grau de intensidade de vida, de festa muito forte, de envolvimento, pertencimento grande, e cada vez mais criando opções [culturais].”

Para o americano nascido num subúrbio de casas com quintal para brincar, grama para cortar, e folhas para juntar, soa familiar a descrição de vida comunitária de favela. No subúrbio americano, os vizinhos sabem quem está doente, quem precisa de canja de galinha, carona, uma visita. Lá, o estado é mais eficaz do que no Brasil– as escolas públicas geralmente são boas, por exemplo– mas fora das grandes cidades as pessoas vivem espalhadas, precisando de apoio, e dando apoio, nas horas de dificuldade. Vizinhos limpam a neve da entrada da casa dos mais velhos, andam de porta em porta distribuindo panfletos de candidatos, dão carona para a igreja, fazem babysitting, passeiam cachorros, regam plantas, distribuem balas às crianças no Halloween.

Pit stop

Pit stop

O carioca do asfalto conhece e cumprimenta vizinhos, porteiros, entregadores, feirantes, comerciantes do bairro. Brinca, zoa o time do outro. Participa de bloco de carnaval, e de festa junina na praça. Compartilha praia, cerveja, galeto, pelada de futebol. Mas raramente se junta aos vizinhos para providenciar algo necessário e de utilidade geral: água, luz, casa. No Brasil, quem mora no asfalto paga imposto, paga porteiro, paga pedreiro, passeador e empregada– e assim resolve a vida.

No Brasil, o nivel de confiança no outro é baixo, sobretudo quando o outro não é parente ou colega. Mas na favela a confiança é maior do que em geral, porque há menos desigualdade. O outro é mais parecido, menos assustador, disse Souza e Silva. E a vida é mais pública.

A van tem termometro. No painel acima da cabeça da moça de megahair, marca mais de 36 graus. Mas a brisa é fresca, o samba incita, e Mara, a moça do lado, está negociando com o motorista o transporte de um grupo em janeiro, para Jacarepaguá. Haverá um casamento. “Seu?” pergunta o cobrador, com um sorriso malicioso. Pelo tom de voz e a plenitude de expressões faciais, mais a roupa, conclui-se que ele é homossexual.

“É ruim, hein!” exclama Mara. “Eu casar em Jacarepaguá? Vou casar no Copacabana Palace!” Ela pede um preço do motorista. Ele diz que está pensando.  E para num ponto de ônibus. Sobe um rapaz de pele enrugado pelo sol, que fica em pé ao lado do cobrador. No próximo ponto, o cobrador abre a porta para revelar uma loira, segurando uma grande sacola. Ela faz não com a cabeça. O motorista diz que tem lugar. “Vem, sim!” ele exorta, dobrando-se por cima das três moças no banco de frente para que sua voz chegue aos ouvidos da cliente em potencial. Mas ela se recusa.

“Agora mete o pé!” diz um passageiro, ao passo que a van engrena na avenida Brasil.

“Vou meter,” responde o motorista. “Tem que estar em Copacabana às duas horas.”

As vans surgiram nos anos 90 no Rio de Janeiro, como resposta informal à falta de transporte entre bairros afastados e áreas centrais da cidade. “Sem a van Copacanana-Maré, nao sei o que seria da gente, galera que circula dia e noite construindo novas formas de viver a cidade,” comentou Souza e Silva.

Hoje, milicianos controlam grande parte do negócio e o prefeito Eduardo Paes tenta racionalizar o transporte urbano. Para reduzir o número de veículos nas ruas, fariam muito mais sentido linhas de ônibus ou de metrô. A questão não é tāo diferente da de ocupaçāo do solo. Já existem prédios em favelas.

S

“Quanto, então?” pergunta a Mara. “Vinte,” diz o motorista.

“Por pessoa? Isso sai do meu bolso!” Ela mexe com o celular e mostra alguma coisa, uma foto talvez, à moça do lado dela.

Neste momento, quatro anos após o início da pacificação no Rio de Janeiro, com vários reflexos economicos e imobiliarios dela em curso, fala-se muito na preservação da favela, sobretudo das na Zona Sul. Sabe-se que um número crescente de jovens estrangeiros brinca de casinha no Vidigal, na Rocinha, no Pavão-Pavãozinho e no Cantagalo. Uma breve caminhada em qualquer um desses morros revela sacas de cimento, tijolos recém-colocados. A vida ficou mais segura em muitas favelas pacificadas. As pessoas investem, a cidade se transforma. A barreira entre morro e asfalto fica um tanto menos nítida.

O que deveria ser preservado, nestas áreas da cidade tão longamente negligenciadas? “Uma grande confusão que se faz,” disse mais cedo Souza e Silva na sala dele no Observatório, “é de considerar, quando se fala em preservar a favela como habitat, [que trata-se de] preservar  paisagem.”

A paisagem, mesmo nas favelas mais cinematográficas, mesmo onde as crianças hoje brincam tranquilamente na rua e faz-se churrasco de Reveillon para turista, ainda é frequentemente feia e malcheirosa.

“Tem que garantir todas as condições básicas: saneamento, luz, água, esgoto, coleta de lixo, crêche, educação, equipamentos culturais,” acrescentou Souza e Silva. “Tudo que se tem para viver com dignidade num centro urbano tem que ter na favela. Só que isso não quer dizer eliminar a favela,” explicou. “Significa reconhecer que a favela tem uma geografia particular, que pode ser preservada como as cidades medievais foram preservadas […] podemos ter vários tipos de habitat, de estrutura urbana, sem perder a dignidade.”

SONY DSC

E, supondo que a favela ganhe essa dimensão toda nos próximos anos– pois o programa Morar Carioca, financiado pelo BID, pretende justamente urbanizar todas as favelas cariocas até 2020– o que Souza Silva e outros representantes das regiões populares da cidade querem preservar é um estilo de vida.

O cobrador manda a Mara tomar nota do celular dele, no dela. “Agora liga para mim,” ele diz. ” Para eu ter teu número também.” A negociação será demorada.

“Alguém vai para o Aterro?” pergunta o motorista. “Eu,” diz a moça do outro lado da Mara.

“Serve o Largo do Machado?”

“Serve.”

“Você que vai casar?” pergunta o cobrador novamente, como se fosse policial tentando desvendar mentiras. “So no Copa Palace,” reitera a Mara.

“Faz tempo que não vejo sua namorada,” provoca a amiga da Mara ao motorista.

“Que namorada!” ele corrige. “Sou casado.”

O próximo é próximo: cobrador e passageiro

A van passa pela estação de trem Leopoldina, pelo Sambódromo, e finalmente encosta no Largo do Machado. A temperatura já baixou um grau. O samba ameniza, e a brisa idem. A amiga da Mara desce. Mara diz que vai para São Conrado, mas para chegar lá terá que descer antes do Shopping Rio Sul e pegar outro transporte.

O passageiro de pele enrugado quer pagar seus três reais ao cobrador. “Na saída,” afirma este.

Cariocas do asfalto criam e mantém vínculos no bairro, na cidade. Os vínculos entre moradores de favela, disse Souza e Silva, precisam ser preservados. Muitas vezes, advêm de fortes experiências de vida.

Não devem ser muito diferentes dos vínculos comunitários evidentes na pequena cidade de Sandy Hook, por exemplo, cidade norte americana recentemente atingida por uma tragédia terrível. Vizinhos lá estranharam nunca terem entrado na casa da māe do matador, de acordo com reportagens. Pois lá, entra-se na casa de vizinho, mesmo que não seja amigo. Tomar essa liberdade, e sentir a confiança embutida no ato, fazem parte da democracia americana.

No Brasil, tal comportamento pode ser considerado uma intrusão. Na Zona Sul do Rio de Janeiro, pede-se licença, cheio de dedos, para conferir a criatividade de um decorador ou arquiteto, num apartamento de layout igual.

“Reconhecer que a favela é mais do que paisagem é reconhecer esses vínculos,” finalizou Souza e Silva.

O passageiro de rugas chegou no destino. A van para, o cobrador desce, o passageiro paga na calçada. “Não quer receber antes,” lamenta o motorista. “Só viado, mesmo.”

S

Não casa em Jacarepaguá

A van chega na praia do Flamengo, e descem vários passageiros, criando mais espaço. “Onde você trabalha em São Conrado?” pergunta o motorista, agora sozinho no banco da frente, para Mara.

“No Fashion Mall?” aposta o cobrador. É o shopping mais chique do Rio de Janeiro. Ela diz que sim. “Qual loja?” ele pergunta. Agora resolve receber de todo mundo. O dinheiro é passado adiante, troco feito.

“Armani,” responde a Mara. A van passa por um túnel pequeno. Na saída, Mara está colocando um óculos de sol com um AX no haste. Logo a van para no ponto, ela desce, e daí aparece no vão da porta aberta um jovem de topete e sobrancelha feita, mão sugestivamente na cintura, um pé esticado à frente do outro para ressaltar um quadril amplo.

“Seu irmão?” pergunta o motorista ao cobrador. O rapaz sobe requebrando para o assento de carona agora vazio, e o cobrador, de sorriso maroto, desce para comprar água gelada para ele e o colega de trabalho.

Enquanto os dois bebem das garrafinhas suadas de plástico azul, a van chega em Copacabana, o bairro mais denso do Rio de Janeiro. A brisa do mar adentra os vidros; o samba flui para fora. Fazem 33 graus, de acordo com os números vermelhos do painel. Os últimos descem na altura da Francisco Sá, e lá vai a dupla Copacabana-Maré pelo retorno, pela praia, de volta ao Parque União.

Affluent People Less Likely to Reach out to Others in Times of Trouble? (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (Aug. 30, 2012) — Crises are said to bring people closer together. But a new study from UC Berkeley suggests that while the have-nots reach out to one another in times of trouble, the wealthy are more apt to find comfort in material possessions.

While chaos drives some to seek comfort in friends and family, others gravitate toward money and material possessions, a new study finds. (Credit: iStockphoto/Rob Friedman)

“In times of uncertainty, we see a dramatic polarization, with the rich more focused on holding onto and attaining wealth and the poor spending more time with friends and loved ones,” said Paul Piff, a post-doctoral scholar in psychology at UC Berkeley and lead author of the paper published online this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

These new findings add to a growing body of scholarship at UC Berkeley on socio-economic class — defined by both household income and education — and social behavior.

Results from five separate experiments shed new light on how humans from varying socio-economic backgrounds may respond to both natural and human-made disasters, including economic recessions, political instability, earthquakes and hurricanes. They also help explain why, in times of turmoil, people can become more polarized in their responses to uncertainty and chaos.

For example, when asked if they would move across the country for a higher-paying job, study participants from the lower class responded that they would decline in favor of staying close to friends, family and colleagues. By contrast, upper class participants opted to take the job and cut ties with their community.

Although the study does not provide a definitive reason for why the upper class, when stressed, focuses more on worldly goods than relationships, it posits that “material wealth may be a particularly salient, accessible and preferred individual coping mechanism … when they are threatened by perceptions of chaos within the social environment.”

Each experiment was done with a different group of ethnically and socio-economically diverse participants, all of whom reported their social status (household income and education) as well as their level of community mindedness and/or preoccupation with money.

In a lab setting, researchers induced various psychological states in their subjects — such as uncertainty, helplessness or anxiety — so they could accurately assess how social class shapes the likelihood of people turning to others or to wealth in the face of perceived chaos.

Chaos is defined in the study as “the feeling that the world is unknown, unpredictable, seemingly random … a general sense that the world and one’s life have turned uncertain and topsy-turvy.” This uncertainty typically triggers either a fight-or-flight or a “tend-and-befriend” response, which researchers used to assess participants reactions to induced stress.

In the first experiment, a nationwide sample of 76 men and women ranging in age from 18 to 66 were tasked with selecting, online, a visual graph that best reflected the trajectory of economic ups and downs they believed they were likely to face in their lifetimes. The results showed that the upper class and, to a small degree, Caucasian participants, were less likely than the lower class and minorities to anticipate financial instability. Lower-class participants who expected more turmoil in their lives were more likely to turn to community to cope with perceived chaos, the study found.

In the second experiment, 72 college students were asked to write about positive and negative factors that could impact their educational experience. Potential threats that they cited included canceled classes, tuition hikes and academic failures. Again, worries about chaos and helplessness spurred lower class college students — but not the upper class ones — to say they would turn to their community for support. In the third experiment, 77 students were put through computerized tasks in which they rearranged into sentences words that either alluded to chaos or something negative. This exercise was designed to prime certain participants to see their environment as unpredictable and scary. When these participants were offered five minutes to take part in a community building task where they could develop friendships with a group of their peers, only lower class participants jumped at the opportunity.

The fourth experiment had 135 students unscramble similar words into sentences and then report on how much they agreed with such statements as “Money is the only thing I can really count on” and “Time spent not making money is time wasted.” When made to feel as if the world was chaotic, upper class participants consistently agreed more strongly with these statements.

In the fifth experiment, 115 students were given a hypothetical scenario in which an employer offered them a new job for a higher salary, with the caveat that they would need to move, and potentially lose touch with their current network of family, friends and colleagues. Again, when primed with feelings that the world was uncertain and chaotic, upper class participants were more amenable to cutting ties and taking the job, whereas lower class participants opted to stay close to their support networks.

“Given the very different forms of coping that we observe among the upper and lower classes, our research suggests that in times of economic uncertainty and social instability, disparities between the haves and the have-nots could grow ever wider,” Piff said.

Other coauthors of the study are UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner; Daniel Stancato, a psychologist in Seattle, Wash.; Andres Martinez of George Mason University and Michael Kraus of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The research was funded in part by the National Science Foundation.

Journal Reference:

  1. Paul K. Piff, Daniel M. Stancato, Andres G. Martinez, Michael W. Kraus, Dacher Keltner. Class, Chaos, and the Construction of Community.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2012; DOI: 10.1037/a0029673

Why Are People Overconfident So Often? It’s All About Social Status (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (Aug. 13, 2012) — Researchers have long known that people are very frequently overconfident — that they tend to believe they are more physically talented, socially adept, and skilled at their job than they actually are. For example, 94% of college professors think they do above average work (which is nearly impossible, statistically speaking). But this overconfidence can also have detrimental effects on their performance and decision-making. So why, in light of these negative consequences, is overconfidence still so pervasive?

The lure of social status promotes overconfidence, explains Haas School Associate Professor Cameron Anderson. He co-authored a new study, “A Status-Enhancement Account of Overconfidence,” with Sebastien Brion, assistant professor of managing people in organizations, IESE Business School, University of Navarra, Haas School colleagues Don Moore, associate professor of management, and Jessica A. Kennedy, now a post-doctoral fellow at the Wharton School of Business. The study will be published in theJournal of Personality and Social Psychology (forthcoming).

“Our studies found that overconfidence helped people attain social status. People who believed they were better than others, even when they weren’t, were given a higher place in the social ladder. And the motive to attain higher social status thus spurred overconfidence,” says Anderson, the Lorraine Tyson Mitchell Chair in Leadership and Communication II at the Haas School.

Social status is the respect, prominence, and influence individuals enjoy in the eyes of others. Within work groups, for example, higher status individuals tend to be more admired, listened to, and have more sway over the group’s discussions and decisions. These “alphas” of the group have more clout and prestige than other members. Anderson says these research findings are important because they help shed light on a longstanding puzzle: why overconfidence is so common, in spite of its risks. His findings suggest that falsely believing one is better than others has profound social benefits for the individual.

Moreover, these findings suggest one reason why in organizational settings, incompetent people are so often promoted over their more competent peers. “In organizations, people are very easily swayed by others’ confidence even when that confidence is unjustified,” says Anderson. “Displays of confidence are given an inordinate amount of weight.”

The studies suggest that organizations would benefit from taking individuals’ confidence with a grain of salt. Yes, confidence can be a sign of a person’s actual abilities, but it is often not a very good sign. Many individuals are confident in their abilities even though they lack true skills or competence.

The authors conducted six experiments to measure why people become overconfident and how overconfidence equates to a rise in social stature. For example:

In Study 2, the researchers examined 242 MBA students in their project teams and asked them to look over a list of historical names, historical events, and books and poems, and then to identify which ones they knew or recognized. Terms included Maximilien Robespierre, Lusitania, Wounded Knee, Pygmalion, and Doctor Faustus. Unbeknownst to the participants, some of the names were made up. These so-called “foils” included Bonnie Prince Lorenzo, Queen Shaddock, Galileo Lovano, Murphy’s Last Ride, and Windemere Wild. The researchers deemed those who picked the most foils the most overly confident because they believed they were more knowledgeable than they actually were. In a survey at the end of the semester, those same overly confident individuals (who said they had recognized the most foils) achieved the highest social status within their groups.

It is important to note that group members did not think of their high status peers as overconfident, but simply that they were terrific. “This overconfidence did not come across as narcissistic,” explains Anderson. “The most overconfident people were considered the most beloved.”

Study 4 sought to discover the types of behaviors that make overconfident people appear to be so wonderful (even when they were not). Behaviors such as body language, vocal tone, rates of participation were captured on video as groups worked together in a laboratory setting. These videos revealed that overconfident individuals spoke more often, spoke with a confident vocal tone, provided more information and answers, and acted calmly and relaxed as they worked with their peers. In fact, overconfident individuals were more convincing in their displays of ability than individuals who were actually highly competent.

“These big participators were not obnoxious, they didn’t say, ‘I’m really good at this.’ Instead, their behavior was much more subtle. They simply participated more and exhibited more comfort with the task — even though they were no more competent than anyone else,” says Anderson.

Two final studies found that it is the “desire” for status that encourages people to be more overconfident. For example, in Study 6, participants read one of two stories and were asked to imagine themselves as the protagonist in the story. The first story was a simple, bland narrative of losing then finding one’s keys. The second story asked the reader to imagine him/herself getting a new job with a prestigious company. The job had many opportunities to obtain higher status, including a promotion, a bonus, and a fast track to the top. Those participants who read the new job scenario rated their desire for status much higher than those who read the story of the lost keys.

After they were finished reading, participants were asked to rate themselves on a number of competencies such as critical thinking skills, intelligence, and the ability to work in teams. Those who had read the new job story (which stimulated their desire for status) rated their skills and talent much higher than did the first group. Their desire for status amplified their overconfidence.

De-emphasizing the natural tendency toward overconfidence may prove difficult but Prof. Anderson hopes this research will give people the incentive to look for more objective indices of ability and merit in others, instead of overvaluing unsubstantiated confidence.

Lost Letter Experiment Suggests Wealthy London Neighborhoods Are ‘More Altruistic’ (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (Aug. 15, 2012) — Neighbourhood income deprivation has a strong negative effect on altruistic behaviour when measured by a ‘lost letter’ experiment, according to new UCL research published August 15 in PLoS One.

Researchers from UCL Anthropology used the lost letter technique to measure altruism across 20 London neighbourhoods by dropping 300 letters on the pavement and recording whether they arrived at their destination. The stamped letters were addressed by hand to a study author’s home address with a gender neutral name, and were dropped face-up and during rain free weekdays.

The results show a strong negative effect of neighbourhood income deprivation on altruistic behaviour, with an average of 87% of letters dropped in the wealthier neighbourhoods being returned compared to only an average 37% return rate in poorer neighbourhoods.

Co-author Jo Holland said: “This is the first large scale study investigating cooperation in an urban environment using the lost letter technique. This technique, first used in the 1960s by the American social psychologist Stanley Milgram, remains one of the best ways of measuring truly altruistic behaviour, as returning the letter doesn’t benefit that person and actually incurs the small hassle of taking the letter to a post box.

Co-author Professor Ruth Mace added: “Our study attempts to understand how the socio-economic characteristics of a neighbourhood affect the likelihood of people in a neighbourhood acting altruistically towards a stranger. The results show a clear trend, with letters dropped in the poorest neighbourhoods having 91% lower odds of being returned than letters dropped in the wealthiest neighbourhoods. This suggests that those living in poor neighbourhoods are less inclined to behave altruistically toward their neighbours.”

As well as measuring the number of letters returned, the researchers also looked at how other neighbourhood characteristics may help to explain the variation in altruistic behaviour — including ethnic composition and population density — but did not find them to be good predictors of lost letter return.

Corresponding author Antonio Silva said: “The fact that ethnic composition does not play a role on the likelihood of a letter being returned is particularly interesting, as other studies have suggested that ethnic mixing negatively affects social cohesion, but in our sampled London neighbourhoods this does not appear to be true.

“The level of altruism observed in a population is likely to vary according to its context. Our hypothesis that area level socio-economic characteristics could determine the levels of altruism found in individuals living in an area is confirmed by our results. Our overall findings replicate and expand on previous studies which use similar methodology.

“We show in this study that individuals living in poor neighbourhoods are less altruistic than individuals in wealthier neighbourhoods. However, the effect of income deprivation may be confounded by crime, as the poorer neighbourhoods tend to have higher rates crime which may lead to people in those neighbourhoods being generally more suspicious and therefore less likely to pick up a lost letter.

“Further research should focus on attempting to disentangle these two factors, possibly by comparing equally deprived neighbourhoods with different levels of crime. Although this study uses only one measure of altruism and therefore we should be careful in interpreting these findings, it does give us an interesting perspective on altruism in an urban context and provides a sound experimental model on which to base future studies.”