Poverty may tax thinking abilities
Interesting finding reported in Science News by Bruce Bower:
Poverty drains brains while it empties pocketbooks, a new study concludes.
Money worries consume poor people’s attention, dramatically undermining their performance on IQ-related tests of reasoning and mental control, say economist Anandi Mani of the University of Warwick in Coventry, England, and her colleagues. Among the poor, but not the rich, evoking financial concerns damages reasoning abilities about as much as going a night without sleep or losing 13 IQ points, Mani’s team reports in the Aug. 30 Science.
Shortly after reaping a financial windfall, poor individuals perform far better on the same mental tests. That improvement may be thanks partly to temporary freedom from money concerns, the scientists propose.
Their findings follow evidence that scarcity of money (or anything else important) promotes short-term thinking, helping to explain why poor people generally save too little and borrow too much (SN: 12/1/12, p. 17).
The new study raises a valid concern, although people barely scraping by frequently deal with money in sophisticated ways, says Harvard University sociologist Kathryn Edin, who studies U.S. families subsisting on welfare. “Poverty can lead to better, not just worse, mental functioning.”
Many mothers on welfare, for instance, work out complicated family budgets and keep careful spending records, Edin finds.
In one experiment, Mani’s group classified nearly 400 shoppers at a New Jersey mall as affluent or poor based on self-reported incomes and family size. Participants made easy or hard hypothetical financial decisions before taking nonverbal tests of logical thinking and the ability to control rapid responses to computer images.
Poor people who contemplated tough money problems scored lower on both mental tests than their wealthy counterparts. On easy problems, rich and poor groups scored similarly.
In a second experiment, the researchers administered the same tests to 364 sugarcane farmers in India. Farmers eked out a living until harvests yielded big pay days.
The researchers gave tests before and after harvests; test scores rose substantially after harvests. Stress reduction, indicated by lower blood pressure and heart rate, partially explained farmers’ mental turnaround, Mani says.
Policymakers should consider . . .
UPDATE: See also this article.