A recent study by a team of researchers suggests poverty may have further reaching consequences than we may know. The study, published August 29th in Science Magazine, claims that poverty decreases an individual’s cognitive abilities.
According the the study, poverty causes a series of stresses and worries for individuals. These stresses and worries may take up brain power that decreases an individual’s ability to make good decisions. The result is often poor decision making that can further perpetuate poverty. For example, if a man does not know where his next meal is coming from, this preoccupation may lead to poor financial management decisions.
The study builds on previous research that has suggested poverty may lead to counterproductive decisions. However, this study is the first to suggest poverty leads to decreased mental cognitive abilities.
The experiment used two sets of study groups: one in New Jersey and the other in India. In New Jersey the participants were split into two groups based on income and administered a series of questions regarding personal financial decisions. The poor group did not perform as well as the rich group. The group in India, composed of sugarcane farmers, were administered a test before the harvest, when the farmers were poor, and again, later, when they were better off economically. The farmers performed better post-harvest when they had more money.
While the study does not prove that poverty causes reduced mental ability, this study may be a useful resource for policy makers and individuals who work in anti-poverty programs. Ensuring that complicated cognitive activity is simplified may assist those who are already dealing with poverty problems.
The inability to make good financial decisions has the potential to perpetuate poverty. If indeed they are subjected to reduced cognitive ability or “bandwidth,” these individuals can become trapped in a negative feedback cycle of poverty. The time and ability taken up by thoughts regarding housing, food, and income overpower the abilities that are needed to consider decisions about loans, financial stability, and time and money management.
– Callie D. Coleman
Sources:US News And World Report, Global Post