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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More