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

Multimedia Baltimore 'Victory Rally' Follows Charges in Detainee Death

Saturday's rally is largest organized gathering since state's attonrey filed felony charges in police-custody death of Freddie Gray More

UN Denies Child Sex Abuse Cover Up in CAR

UNHCR says senior official suspected of leaking report suspended for breaching rules More

Nepal Officials Slammed Over Aid Response

VOA News has compiled from various organizations complaints from across Nepal of bottlenecks at customs, repeated harassing inspections of aid convoys and seizure of goods More

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.
From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil Wari
X
Henry Ridgwell
May 03, 2015 1:12 AM
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
Video

Video Black Families Use Baltimore Case to Revisit 'Police Talk'

Following Freddie Gray’s death in police custody this month, VOA interviewed black families throughout the eastern U.S. city of Baltimore about how they discuss the case. Over and over, parents pointed to a crucial talk they say every black mother or father has with their children. Victoria Macchi has more on how this conversation is passed down through generations.
Video

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video 'Woman in Gold' Uses Artwork as Symbol of Cultural Identity

Simon Curtis’ legal drama, "Woman in Gold," is based on the true story of an American Jewish refugee from Austria who fights to reclaim a famous Gustav Klimt painting stolen from her family by the Nazis during World War II. It's a haunting film that speaks to the hearts of millions who have sought to reclaim their past, stripped from them 70 years ago. VOA's Penelope Poulou reports.
Video

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.
Video

Video First Surgical Glue Approved for Use Inside Body

While medical adhesives are becoming more common, none had been approved for use inside the body until now. Earlier this year, the first ever biodegradable surgical glue won that approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on the innovation and its journey from academia to market.
Video

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.
Video

Video Study: One in Six Species Threatened with Extinction

Climate change is transforming the planet. Unless steps are taken to reduce global warming, scientists predict rising seas, stronger and more frequent storms, drought, fire and floods. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, a new study on species extinction underscores the need to take action to avoid the most catastrophic effects of rising temperatures.
Video

Video Taviani Brothers' 'Wondrous Boccaccio' Offers Tales of Love, Humor

The Italian duo of Paolo and Vittorio Taviani have been making movies for half a century: "The Night of the Shooting Stars," "Padre Padrone," "Good Morning, Babylon." Now in their 80s, the brothers have turned to one of the treasures of Italian culture for their latest film. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver reports.
Video

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Baltimore Riots Shed Light on City’s Troubled Past

National Guard troops took up positions Tuesday in Baltimore, Maryland, as authorities tried to restore order after rioting broke out a day earlier. It followed Monday's funeral of a 25-year-old black man who died while in police custody earlier this month. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Challenges Await Aid Organizations on the Ground in Nepal

A major earthquake rocked Nepal on Saturday and killed thousands, injured thousands more and sent countless Nepalese outside to live in makeshift tent villages. The challenges to Nepal are enormous, with some reconstruction estimates at around $5 billion. Aid workers from around the world face challenges getting into Nepal, which likely makes for a difficult recovery. Arash Arabasadi has the story from Washington.

Poll: Baltimore Police Charged

Poll archive

VOA Blogs