How Poverty Impairs People's Ability to Think Clearly

Poor people's bad decision-making may be at least partly a result of their circumstances, not due to any intrinsic lack of intelligence.

What's the Latest Development?

Psychological researchers at Princeton University recently gathered more evidence in favor of the theory that poverty is a cycle, rather than a simple consequence of irresponsible behavior. By looking at sugar-cane farmers in India, who are extremely cash poor before their harvest, then suddenly cash rich afterwards, researchers were better able to understand how having money affects the decision-making process. "The farmers scored significantly lower on the [intelligence] tests before the harvest, when money was tight, suggesting that their worries made it harder to think clearly."

What's the Big Idea?

The overriding question of the study, and one which continually affects social welfare programs created by the government to benefit the poor, is whether bad decision-making helps cause poverty, or does poverty interfere with decision-making? According to the Princeton researchers, "the most likely explanation for the results is that people have a limited amount of 'mental bandwidth', and financial worries leave less available for other cognitive tasks," such as creating a nurturing environment for children. If so, then poor people's bad decision-making may be at least partly a result of their circumstances, not due to any intrinsic lack of intelligence.

Photo credit:

Read it at New Scientist

Related Articles
Keep reading Show less

Five foods that increase your psychological well-being

These five main food groups are important for your brain's health and likely to boost the production of feel-good chemicals.

Mind & Brain

We all know eating “healthy” food is good for our physical health and can decrease our risk of developing diabetes, cancer, obesity and heart disease. What is not as well known is that eating healthy food is also good for our mental health and can decrease our risk of depression and anxiety.

Keep reading Show less

For the 99%, the lines are getting blurry

Infographics show the classes and anxieties in the supposedly classless U.S. economy.

What is the middle class now, anyway? (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs

For those of us who follow politics, we’re used to commentators referring to the President’s low approval rating as a surprise given the U.S.'s “booming” economy. This seeming disconnect, however, should really prompt us to reconsider the measurements by which we assess the health of an economy. With a robust U.S. stock market and GDP and low unemployment figures, it’s easy to see why some think all is well. But looking at real U.S. wages, which have remained stagnant—and have, thus, in effect gone down given rising costs from inflation—a very different picture emerges. For the 1%, the economy is booming. For the rest of us, it’s hard to even know where we stand. A recent study by Porch (a home-improvement company) of blue-collar vs. white-collar workers shows how traditional categories are becoming less distinct—the study references "new-collar" workers, who require technical certifications but not college degrees. And a set of recent infographics from CreditLoan capturing the thoughts of America’s middle class as defined by the Pew Research Center shows how confused we are.

Keep reading Show less