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Poverty and the Cognitive Abilities

Poverty deprives so much of the mental energy that it leaves people struggling to make ends meet often have little brainpower left for anything else; such poverty leaves them more susceptible to bad decisions that can perpetuate their situation.

According to new research study, poverty does not do justice to individuals’ cognitive abilities. Poverty strains cognitive abilities; it opens door for bad decision-making. Poverty deprives so much of the mental energy that it leaves people struggling to make ends meet often have little brainpower left for anything else; such poverty leaves them more susceptible to bad decisions that can perpetuate their situation.  “What we’re arguing is it’s not about the individual. It’s about the situation.” said Jiaying Zhao, a University of British Columbia professor and one of the authors of the study, which was published Thursday 08/29/2013 in the journal Science. The research was conducted on two groups of subjects. As a result, people wrestling with the mental strain of poverty suffered a drop of as much as 13 points in their IQ.  “Poverty is the equivalent of pulling an all-nighter,” said Harvard economist Sandhil Mullainathan, another of the study’s authors. “Picture yourself after an all-nighter. Being poor is like that every day.”

“While the poor may be experiencing a scarcity of money, at some level what they may really be experiencing is a scarcity of bandwidth, of cognitive capacity,” he said. “It’s the situation that’s creating the stress.”

“You are captured by these monetary issues — how to pay rent, how to pay bills,” Zhao said. “As a result, you’re less attentive to other problems. You neglect other things in life that deserve your attention.”

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