Very interesting research: Poverty reduces brainpower needed for navigating other areas of life

This is one of the more interesting pieces of research I read lately as it combines intelligence and circumstances in a different way than usual. As the research wasn’t focussing on education, it’s a giant leap to make strong conclusions for schools, still I think it’s worth  further investigation. If somebody knows about educational research in this line of thinking, do mention it in a reply!

From the press release:

Poverty and all its related concerns require so much mental energy that the poor have less remaining brainpower to devote to other areas of life, according to research based at Princeton University. As a result, people of limited means are more likely to make mistakes and bad decisions that may be amplified by — and perpetuate — their financial woes.

Published in the journal Science, the study presents a unique perspective regarding the causes of persistent poverty. The researchers suggest that being poor may keep a person from concentrating on the very avenues that would lead them out of poverty. A person’s cognitive function is diminished by the constant and all-consuming effort of coping with the immediate effects of having little money, such as scrounging to pay bills and cut costs. Thusly, a person is left with fewer “mental resources” to focus on complicated, indirectly related matters such as education, job training and even managing their time.

In a series of experiments, the researchers found that pressing financial concerns had an immediate impact on the ability of low-income individuals to perform on common cognitive and logic tests. On average, a person preoccupied with money problems exhibited a drop in cognitive function similar to a 13-point dip in IQ, or the loss of an entire night’s sleep.

Do read the whole press release or the article in Science:

The poor often behave in less capable ways, which can further perpetuate poverty. We hypothesize that poverty directly impedes cognitive function and present two studies that test this hypothesis. First, we experimentally induced thoughts about finances and found that this reduces cognitive performance among poor but not in well-off participants. Second, we examined the cognitive function of farmers over the planting cycle. We found that the same farmer shows diminished cognitive performance before harvest, when poor, as compared with after harvest, when rich. This cannot be explained by differences in time available, nutrition, or work effort. Nor can it be explained with stress: Although farmers do show more stress before harvest, that does not account for diminished cognitive performance. Instead, it appears that poverty itself reduces cognitive capacity. We suggest that this is because poverty-related concerns consume mental resources, leaving less for other tasks. These data provide a previously unexamined perspective and help explain a spectrum of behaviors among the poor. We discuss some implications for poverty policy.

10 thoughts on “Very interesting research: Poverty reduces brainpower needed for navigating other areas of life

  1. […] Last year I discussed a twin study on 11000 twins in the UK showing the effect genetics have an test results in school. Now there is a new study on 13000 twins in the UK published on PLOSOne. The title makes it already clear: “The high heritability of educational achievement reflects many genetically influenced traits, not just intelligence” (and do note that even intelligence still is influenced by environment too to a great extent). […]

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