Egalitarians are more aware of inequality

Image of an urban scene.

Enlarge / Do you notice the homeless person’s tent or the city’s skyscrapers? (credit: Wally Skalij / Getty Images)

The COVID-19 pandemic has helped draw attention to the persistent disparities in health care in the US, with minorities and the poor suffering disproportionately worse outcomes from the disease. When it comes to inequality, however, the pandemic is competing for attention with other indications of the US’ problems, with issues ranging from income inequality to police brutality to minority participation in science making headlines.

But perhaps the most striking aspect is that, when polled, a substantial portion of the US public doesn’t seem to recognize that disparities exist, or they think that dominant groups are victims of discrimination. This gap in perception makes it difficult to even discuss inequality, much less decide on policies to address it.

This week, a team of researchers published what may be a partial explanation for why people don’t see things the same way: they don’t actually see the same things. More specifically, people who are sensitive to inequality are simply more likely to notice instances of it.

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