Dec 5, 2013
Poverty Damages the Mind
Posted on Aug 31, 2013
There is a strong connection between scarce resources and cognition: The more a person struggles financially, the less he or she can channel brain processes to completing other tasks. When you can’t make ends meet, the weight of worry occupies a large portion of the mind.
This doesn’t just mean those who suffer due to poverty are just stressed but rather, incapable of dedicating themselves to other endeavors because their mind is so fully engrossed in finding ways to survive. It goes beyond the ability to pay bills, and stretches out to other important everyday responsibilities, such as parenting, going to night school or even remembering to take prescribed medicine.
The science is quite simple, according to a study developed by researchers at Harvard, Princeton and the University of Warwick. People with lower incomes are distracted by financial concerns that take up valuable space in their brain’s “bandwidth,” so to speak. There is only so much available bandwidth a human being has access to at any given moment. When the bandwidth is on overload, it cannot perform at optimal levels. The results that poverty has on the mind are the equivalent of chronic alcoholism, or losing 13 IQ points. An article in The Atlantic Cities explains one of the experiments and analyzes the social significance of the research:
These findings highlight the importance of social programs that fight poverty. But the results of the research don’t apply only to those living below the poverty line. As writer Emily Badger explains in the article, “at the macro level, this means we lost an enormous amount of cognitive ability during the recession.”
Researchers worry that some may still choose to blame “poor people” and their lack of IQ, rather than realize the data proves that it is not about this, but rather “about people who happen to be in poverty.” It’s not the person, but the context, Shafir argues.
And the context since 2008 has been nothing short of dismal for many.
—Posted by Natasha Hakimi
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