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Sendhil Mullainathan, a behavioral economist at Harvard University has, along with others, conducted a study to measure the correlation between poverty and intelligence. It is a general and extremely unfortunate judgment that people have, to blame poverty of the poor on the poor. They can work harder, try harder at school, do more work, take better care of their finances, etc. according to these victim blamers. Mullainathan’s study proves that not only is the attitude extremely harmful, it is extremely wrong.

To test his hypothesis, Mullainathan tested two very different groups of people: farmers in rural India, and shoppers in New Jersey. Both were put under financial stress, and then were asked to take various IQ tests. The results were startling. While the “rich” had no difference in test scores, the people who were put under a little financial duress responded very slightly, but those under extreme duress showed an average drop of 13 IQ points.

The study suggests that being under financial burden tends to put mental stress on the subjects; which in turn leaves them unable to think properly, or perform as well as they could have in an optimal situation. Being under such duress all the time, near constantly, would obvious affect the day-to-day mental performance of the poor. In such cases, it becomes near impossible for the poor to rise out of poverty based only on their meager earnings and external pressure.

This new study is priceless for those who are advocating against poverty. Such studies help us learn the psychological effects of poverty, and show how being stuck in poverty is like being caught in a wheel, unable to stop at any point, without risk of losing what little one has. This study can be used to help those starting initiatives to help the poor. Understanding the psychological duress being poor puts on people, regardless of age, gender, and country of origin, helps us counter poverty along with its psychological toll.

– Aalekhya Malladi

Sources: LA Times , The Guardian