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Ambivalent attitude of young people in China toward rich kids: Evidence from behavioral indices.

The phenomenon of children in newly rich families is a new social issue in China. With rapid economic development, more and more people have accumulated great wealth. The children of these rich people, who receive a lot of money from their parents, are commonly known as rich kids. Some rich kids choose to flaunt their wealth and privileges via social networks in order to gain attention and admiration from others. Such displays are spread widely through various types of mass media and social network services, and cause broad social concerns for the general public. This is because when rich kids boast about their wealth, the general public will think that this wealth has resulted from social inequality and the new privileged class (Zhu, 2009).

When asked about rich kids, the majority of young people in China first think of those young people who display their wealth and privileges. This is because of the prevalence of news reports that are focused on this issue (Peng, 2012). The opinions held by young people who are not rich about rich kids are both negative and positive. On one hand, young people usually have a very bad impression of rich kids and think that they have received more wealth, resources, opportunities, and power than others without expending any effort (Zhu, 2009). On the other hand, the majority of young people also seem to like rich kids. For example, young people in China love to watch television shows like Rich Kids of Beverly Hills that show how luxurious the lifestyle of rich kids is (Chu, 2015). In addition, the clothes worn by rich kids become fashion trends that other young people are willing to follow (Cong, 2010). The existence of these phenomena shows that young people have both avoidance and approach tendencies toward rich kids, even if they do not have real contact with rich kids, but just base their information on what they see on the television or the Internet. However, until now, researchers have paid attention only to young people's negative views of rich kids (Liu & Liu, 2012; Peng, 2012; Zhu, 2009). Therefore, our aim in the current study was to provide a deeper understanding of Chinese young people's attitude toward rich kids, by adopting a mixed attitude theory perspective (Thompson & Zanna, 1995).

Mixed attitudes have become increasingly important as a topic for study in the attitude research field (Conner & Sparks, 2002). For decades, attitude was seen as a one-dimensional concept, either positive or negative, an approach that provides only limited understanding of people's views of the target (Conner & Sparks, 2002). However, after Scott (1968) proposed the ambivalence attitude theory, social psychologists started to regard positive and negative attitudes separately (Conner & Sparks, 2002), which has given a clearer and more comprehensive understanding of the target, and uncovered more effective solutions to social problems. In the ambivalence attitude theory, it is posited that people can hold a conflicting attitude, with both positive and negative aspects, toward the same target (Cunningham, Johnson, Gatenby, Gore, & Banaji, 2003). For instance, people may like candy for its taste, and also dislike it because of the high number of calories it contains. People have an ambivalent attitude toward a wide range of targets, including social issues, such as gay rights (Garner, 2013), consumer behaviors (Wheeler & Jones, 2006), gender issues (Feather & McKee, 2012), racial problems (Czopp & Monteith, 2006), parents (Maio, Fincham, & Lycett, 2000), and economic groups (Erisen & Erisen, 2014), as well as things common in daily life, such as chocolate, sports, and diets (Povey, Wellens, & Conner, 2001). These studies inspired us to take a more detailed look at rich kids, who elicit both positive and negative attitudes.

Ambivalence of attitude can be reflected in cognitive evaluation, emotion, or both. That is to say, people may have a conflicting appraisal of the target, a conflicting emotion in regard to the target, or a between-category conflict of appraisal of, and emotion in regard to, the target (Conner & Sparks, 2002). In previous research, the main focus has been on the existence of ambivalence. Researchers have used interviews and questionnaires to examine positive and negative attitudes, and they have calculated the extent of attitudinal ambivalence using the following formula: A = (P + N) / 2 - [absolute value of P - N], where A represents ambivalence, P represents positive attitudes, and N represents negative attitudes (Thompson & Zanna, 1995). Maio and colleagues (2000) used an open-ended measure to assess children's ambivalent attitudes toward their parents. In their study, children were asked to write 10 words that described their feelings toward their parents and rate the extent to which each word was good or bad. The authors then calculated the positivity and negativity by summing the relevant ratings and put the results into the following formula to calculate ambivalence: P + [absolute value of N] - 2 x [absolute value of P + N] + 30, where P is positivity, N is negativity, and 30 is a constant that is added to preclude negative scores (Bryant, Green, & Hewison, 2011; Cavazza & Butera, 2008; Maio et al., 2000; Zemborain & Johar, 2007).

Our aim in this study was to gain a comprehensive understanding of Chinese young people's attitudes toward rich kids and to help generate advice about how young people should interact with their peers.

Research Question 1: Does ambivalence exist in the attitude of young people in China toward rich kids?

In addition, if this ambivalence exists, our aim was also to examine how it affected the tendency of young people to interact with their peers.

Research Question 2: Does ambivalence of Chinese young people's attitude toward rich kids manifest in both their cognitive evaluation of, and their emotion toward, rich kids, or in just one of these two factors?

Study 1


In Study 1, we examined whether or not young people in China have attitudinal ambivalence toward their peers who are rich kids. We used direct measures because they have been widely used in attitudinal ambivalence studies and can shed light on both the content and the amount of ambivalence (Czopp & Monteith, 2006; Maio et al., 2000). Rich kids are a new social topic, and there are, as yet, no standardized measures that describe the characteristics of this target. Therefore, we used an open-ended measure based on that used by Maio et al.

Participants. The participants were 31 Chinese college students (14 women and 17 men, [M.sub.age] = 21.65 years, SD = 2.63 years). All the students had reported that they were members of families with a moderate level of income in one of our former interviews and had indicated that they were willing to take part in other studies conducted by us. They had all signed a form consenting to take part in the studies. Using the contact information they had provided, we invited them to come to the laboratory and participate in this study. Participants provided all data for analysis anonymously. Each participant was given a cup as a gift after taking part in this short experiment.

Procedure. All experimental procedures in both studies were approved by the Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences. After signing the consent form, participants were asked to write 10 words about "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" (the Chinese character meaning "myself") and 10 words about "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" (the Chinese character meaning "rich kids"). Participants were free to write whatever words came first to their mind. For each of the two target words, we prepared a separate sheet of paper with space for 10 words. Participants were instructed to write each descriptive word in the spaces provided and then rate the valence on a 7-point scale ranging from -3 (very negative) to +3 (very positive).

Outcome measures. We quantified the percentage of words rated as positive, negative, and neutral, then separately summed the self-reported positive and negative values assigned by each participant and put them into the following formula to calculate ambivalence in attitude: A = P + [absolute value of N] - 2 x [absolute value of P + N] + 30, where A is ambivalence, P is the sum of the positive values, N is the sum of the negative values, and 30 is a constant that is added to preclude negative scores. A paired-sample t test was used to compare ambivalence between the two targets.


When the target word was "myself," the 31 participants wrote down 304 words: 52.0% of these were positive, 24.0% were negative, and 24.0% were neutral. When the target phrase was "rich kids," the participants wrote down 305 words: 42.3% of these were positive, 27.9% were negative, and 29.8% were neutral. Therefore, the content of the participants' free association to the targets contained both positive and negative elements. Therefore, there was ambivalence in the attitude of the participants toward rich kids. The result of a paired-sample t test showed that participants had a more ambivalent attitude toward rich kids (M = 31.97, SD = 5.84) than they did toward themselves (M = 24.71, SD = 8.53; t(30) = -4.34,p < .001).

Study 2


In Study 2, we examined whether or not ambivalence in the attitude toward rich kids manifests in cognitive evaluation, emotion, or both of these. To assess cognitive evaluation, we adopted the approach used by Barreto, Ellemers, and Fiske (2010), who measured participants' cognitive evaluation of someone who had power over them and someone who did not have power over them. Barreto and colleagues asked their participants to read a brief scenario describing someone they would encounter after gaining employment in a new company. The target person was described as either powerful or powerless. The participants were then asked to evaluate the target's qualities and their view of prejudice on two 7-point Likert scales. We adopted this approach to measure the students' cognitive evaluation of rich kids in Study 2, but made modifications according to the results we had obtained in Study 1. First, we omitted the prejudice rating scale, as this was not the focus in this study. Second, we used the label "rich kids" and a school-related scenario.

Participants. We randomly selected 132 students at a middle school in Hunan, China, to participate in Study 2. Our experimenter conducted the procedure during the students' activity time. Participants were randomly distributed across two conditions, with 66 in the experimental group (34 girls and 32 boys; [M.sub.age] = 13.18 years, SD = 1.04 years) and 66 in the control group (32 girls and 34 boys; [M.sub.age] = 13.15 years, SD = 1.40 years).

Procedure. After reading the consent form, participants were instructed to imagine that they were going to enter a new class. They did not know much about their classmates and only had information that their desk mate would be Student A. In the experimental group, Student A was labeled "[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" (a rich kid), whereas in the control group, there was no information provided about Student A (Barreto et al., 2010; Fazio, 2001). Participants then rated several outcome measures based on their expectations of Student A.

Outcome measures. Three outcomes measures were determined: cognitive evaluation of Student A, emotional response toward Student A, and predicted relationship with Student A.

Cognitive evaluation of Student A was assessed by asking participants to indicate their expectations of Student A (Barreto et al., 2010) in terms of his or her competence (three items: intelligent, competent, and capable, [alpha] = .779), sociability (three items: nice, friendly, and warm, [alpha] = .899), and morality (four items: reliable, trustworthy, honest, and sincere, [alpha] = .879). Each item was rated on a 7-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 7 (very much). Emotional response to Student A was measured using the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule-expanded form (PANAS-X; Watson & Clark, 1988), which is used to assess both positive and negative emotions toward a specific target. On a sheet of paper, 20 words were randomly distributed, comprising 10 words describing positive emotions and 10 words describing negative emotions. Participants were instructed to indicate to what extent they felt the emotion described themselves by each word on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 5 (very much). Ambivalence in emotions was determined by summing the positive and negative emotion scores and using the following formula: A = (P + N) / 2 - [absolute value of P N], where A represents ambivalence, P represents positive emotion score, and N represents negative emotion score. High values represent a strong ambivalence in attitude. This formula was endorsed by Thompson and Zanna (1995) and has since been widely used in a variety of research (Ng, Hynie, & MacDonald, 2012; Sjoberg, 2010).

In addition to the nature of the attitude, we examined how an ambivalent attitude affected the participants' behavior; therefore, we asked participants to respond to three items about their willingness to make friends with Student A and their expectations about their future relationship with Student A. The items were designed to examine the willingness to be friends with the target ("I'd like to be friends with Student A"), the expectation of future conflict ("I expect to have conflict with Student A"), and the expectation of efficiency in the future ("If Student A and I study together, we will learn quickly and be happy"). Participants were asked to indicate to what extent they agreed with each of these statements (Barreto et al., 2010) on a 7-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 7 (agree very much). All items were designed not to contain any offensive words.


The participants' cognitive evaluation of Student A was that he/she was less competent, less sociable, and less moral when they were informed that Student A was a rich kid than when they were not provided with any information on Student A (see Table 1).

The strength of both the positive and the negative emotional response was greater when the students were informed that Student A was a rich kid than when they were not provided with any information on Student A, and the students' ambivalence in attitude was also greater when they were told that Student A was a rich kid (see Table 2).

The expectation of efficiency in the future relationship was lower when the students were informed that Student A was a rich kid (M = 3.66, SD = 1.78) than when they were not provided with any information on Student A (M = 4.30, SD = 1.73; F(1, 126) = 4.258, p < .05). The expectation of future conflict (M = 4.26, SD = 1.91 vs. M = 3.91, SD = 1.71) and willingness to be friends with Student A (M = 3.94, SD = 1.66 vs. M = 3.83, SD = 1.83) did not differ between the two conditions.


We designed this study to examine the attitudinal ambivalence of Chinese young people toward rich kids, and to explore in which aspects of their attitude this ambivalence existed. We addressed each of these two issues in a separate study. In Study 1, our aim was to quantify the ambivalence of ordinary Chinese young people's attitude toward rich kids. The results showed that our student participants associated both good and bad things with rich kids in a free-thinking task, indicating that the students' attitude toward rich kids was ambivalent. In Study 2, we explored which areas of the students' attitude were ambivalent. We found that the ambivalence of the students was mainly reflected in their emotions. We also found that these young people were willing to be friends with rich kids, even though they expected conflict and an inefficient relationship in the future.

The focus in previous research has been mainly on negative attitudes toward rich kids (Liu & Liu, 2012; Peng, 2012; Zhu, 2009). However, the findings in those studies do not provide an explanation for why Chinese young people are willing to approach rich kids, and why they like to follow rich kids' dress style. We took a new perspective and we found that Chinese young people have both negative and positive attitudes toward rich kids. This finding can advance knowledge about how rich kids are viewed by others, and can help to explain both young people's behavior toward, and the social phenomenon of, rich kids.

The ambivalent attitude that the participants held toward rich kids could have come from ambivalent information about rich kids that they received from various types of media. Access to the Internet through various devices means that young people in China now have information readily available to them without making any effort (Sparrow, Liu, & Wegner, 2011). Although Chinese young people do not know much about the reality of rich kids' lives they can view positive and negative aspects online. Television shows that portray the luxurious lifestyle of rich kids and their displays of money and wealth are very attractive to young people (Chen, 2009). However, the representation of rich kids in news reports is always that of a naughty child who flaunts his/her parents' wealth, bullies others with his/her privileges, and is proud of this arrogant characteristic (Zhong, 2012). The term "rich kids" reminds ordinary young Chinese people of a virtual image based on the information available on the Internet and in news reports, thereby lowering their expectations of rich kids' qualities. This could lead to ambivalent emotions and expectations of their future relationships with rich kids.

An ambivalent attitude may lead to complicated relationships. One of the possible solutions is to report more accurate and positive information about rich kids. News reports tend to be focused on negative examples of rich kids, whereas positive examples are rarely mentioned (Peng, 2012). Television shows and news media often exaggerate situations to gain the attention of the audience. Furthermore, rich kids are generalized in the media as being arrogant and spoiled by their parents (Peng, 2012). Another solution is to encourage ordinary young people and rich kids to have more face-to-face contact with each other through school exchanges. Social contact can help people get to know each other better and reduce prejudice (Case & Stewart, 2013; LaCour & Green, 2014). When young people know more about the personalities, work ethic, study style, and thoughts of rich kids in real life, they may have a less ambivalent cognitive evaluation about, and more specific emotions toward, them.

The limitations to this study are, first, that our study population was small and was composed of young students in one city in China. In future research, our aim would be to expand the range of participants, extend the research into different cultural contexts, and consider using other factors to examine the relationship between young people's ambivalent attitude and behavior tendencies toward rich kids.


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Chinese Academy of Sciences

Dai Cui, Lili Wu, and Jianxin Zhang, Key Laboratory of Mental Health, Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: Jianxin Zhang, Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 16 Lincui Road, Chao-Yang District, Beijing 100101, People's Republic of China. Email:

Table 1. Students' Cognitive Evaluation of Student A

              Control   Experimental      t
               group       group

Competence     4.95         4.29       3.61 ***
Sociability    5.28         3.86       6.19 ***
Morality       4.73         3.75       4.42 ***

Note. N = 132; *** p < .001.

Table 2. Students' Strength of Emotions Toward Student A

                    Control   Experimental      t
                     group       group

Positive emotions    1.42         1.64       3.61 *
Negative emotions    1.54         1.84       6.19 **
Ambivalence          1.03         1.19       4.42 *

Note. N = 132; * p < .05; ** p < .01.
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Author:Cui, Dai; Wu, Lili; Zhang, Jianxin
Publication:Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Sep 1, 2015
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