News / Science & Technology

    Study Finds Poverty Reduces Brain Power

    A farmer walks through the entrance of his yard at Sami village in the western Indian state of Gujarat in this August 6, 2012, file photo.A farmer walks through the entrance of his yard at Sami village in the western Indian state of Gujarat in this August 6, 2012, file photo.
    x
    A farmer walks through the entrance of his yard at Sami village in the western Indian state of Gujarat in this August 6, 2012, file photo.
    A farmer walks through the entrance of his yard at Sami village in the western Indian state of Gujarat in this August 6, 2012, file photo.
    Reuters
    Poverty and the all-consuming fretting that comes with it require so much mental energy that the poor have little brain power left to devote to other areas of life, according to the findings of an international study published on Thursday.
     
    The mental strain could be costing poor people up to 13 IQ (intelligence quotient) points and means they are more likely to make mistakes and bad decisions that amplify and perpetuate their financial woes, researchers found.
     
    “Our results suggest that when you are poor, money is not the only thing in short supply. Cognitive capacity is also stretched thin,” said Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan, part of an international team that conducted the study.
     
    In a series of experiments, researchers from Harvard, Princeton and other universities in North America and from Britain's University of Warwick found that pressing financial worries had an immediate impact on poor people's ability to perform well in cognitive and logic tests.
     
    Far from signaling that poor people are stupid, the results suggest those living on a tight budget have their effective brain power, or what the researchers called “mental bandwidth,” dramatically limited by the stress of making ends meet.

    IQ dip

    On average, someone weighed down by money woes showed a drop in cognitive function in one part of the study that was comparable to a 13 point dip in IQ, and similar to the  performance deficit expected from someone who has missed a whole night's sleep.
     
    “Previous views of poverty have blamed [it] on personal failings, on an environment that is not conducive to success,” said Jiaying Zhao, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia in Canada.
     
    “We are arguing that the lack of financial resources itself can lead to impaired cognitive function,” she said.
     
    Eldar Shafir, a professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton who worked on the research team, said it was not stress in general, but financial worries in particular, that led to a reduced ability to make sound decisions.
     
    “The poor are often highly effective at focusing on and dealing with pressing problems,” he said. “But they don't have leftover bandwidth to devote to other tasks.
     
    “So, if you live in poverty, you're more error prone and errors cost you more dearly -- it's hard to find a way out.”

    Different groups, same results

    The researchers studied two very different groups - shoppers at a mall in New Jersey in the United States, and sugar cane farmers in rural India.
     
    In the mall study, they gathered dozens of low and middle-income shoppers and subjected them to a battery of tests to measure IQ and impulse control.
     
    Half of the participants were first asked to think about what they would do if their car broke down and the repair cost $1,500 - designed to kick off worries about money. It was among these people that performance dipped significantly.
     
    In India, the researchers found that farmers had diminished cognitive performance before getting paid for their harvest compared to afterwards, when their coffers have been replenished.
     
    “One month after the harvest, they're pretty rich, but the month before - when the money has run out - they're pretty poor,” Mullainathan said in a report of the research, which was published on Thursday in the journal Science.
     
    “What we see is that IQ goes up, [when they are rich] ... errors go way down, and response times go way down,” said Mullainathan.
     
    He added that the effect in India was about two-thirds the size of the effect in the mall study - equal to around nine or 10 IQ points difference from one month to the next.

    You May Like

    California Republicans Mull Choices in Presidential Race

    Ted Cruz tells state's Republican Convention delegates campaign will be 'battle on the ground, district by district by district,' ahead of June 7 primary

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, many Kurds are trying to escape turmoil by focusing on success of football team Amedspor

    South African Company Designs Unique Solar Cooker

    Two-man team of solar power technologists introduces Sol4, hot plate that heats up so fast it’s like cooking with gas or electricity

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: rbockman from: Philly
    August 31, 2013 9:53 AM
    they've got it backwards, low brain power is the cause of poverty

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensionsi
    X
    April 29, 2016 12:28 AM
    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Turkish Kurd Islamist Rally Stokes Tensions

    In a sign of the rising power of Islamists in Turkey, more than 100,000 people recently gathered in Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The gathering highlighted tensions with the pro-secular Kurdish nationalist movement. Dorian Jones reports from Diyarbakir.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora