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.

[Anandi Mani, Sendhil Mullainathan, Eldar Shafir, Jiaying Zhao:"Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function", Science 30 Aug 2013: Vol. 341, Issue 6149, pp. 976-980]

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.


[Poor concentration: Poverty reduces brainpower needed for navigating other areas of life (2013/08/29) on Princeton]
Poverty limits opportunities for parents to teach their children.

Like any other kind of thinking, self-control can be taught. Children do better at self-control (and in school) when their parents teach them to solve problems independently and to participate in decisions. But that kind of involved parenting takes time, and financially poor parents are often “time poor” too. Family factors, such as nurturance and stimulation, that are limited by time poverty are directly linked to mental development. Furthermore, it makes sense that people living in poor, dangerous neighborhoods don’t give their children as much autonomy as people living in less dangerous neighborhoods. As a result, poor working parents are prevented from−not incapable−of teaching self-control to their children.


[Elliot T Berkman Ph.D.:"5 Reasons Why Poverty Reduces Self-Control" (2015/09/05) on PsychologyToday]
Poverty restricts people’s vision of what is possible.

The Little Engine Who Could thought she could climb up the hill before she actually did. She had what psychologists call “self-efficacy,” the belief in her own abilities. An important source of self-efficacy is watching similar others accomplish goals. Poverty doesn’t occur in isolation, so children growing up in poor neighborhoods are short on models of people who escape poverty and long on models of people who do not. A child born in the bottom fifth of the income distribution has less than a one-in-ten chance of moving to the top fifth, and even the brightest poor children are still less likely to complete college than average wealthy children. Based on observing those around them, children in poverty have little reason to have high self-efficacy about self-control.


[Elliot T Berkman Ph.D.:"5 Reasons Why Poverty Reduces Self-Control" (2015/09/05) on PsychologyToday]
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