Anyone who's feared the wolf, who's stopped answering the phone, who's eaten a bag of chips slowly to make it last, knows it. Now scientists confirm it: poverty sucks... your brain.
Emily Badger of Atlantic reports that a group of cognitive scientists at Princeton, Harvard and U/Warwick have concluded that being poor, not even desperately poor but monetarily insecure, is a constant drain on your brain, sucking up so much available bandwidth that pervasive money worries can equate to a 13-point drop in IQ.
The researchers' results, published today in Science, indicate that people beset by common monetary anxieties like a large car repair bill perform consistently worse on cognitive tests that those with enough dough to cover the bills.
While this concept comes as no surprise to anyone who's lived on--or even near--the edge (and is a great excuse for any spelling and grammar errors in this diary), the research has implications for economic and education policy far beyond the cog lab.
We've often been told of the economic advantage of a college education, or how a simple course in money management skills can better stretch a limited budget, but what if the very presence of money woes--not even accompanied by stress indicators like elevated heart rate and blood pressure--are keeping people from effectively learning the skills that can ease those woes?
But the brain drain affects more than the ability to climb up; it makes it harder to even hold your place.
The limited bandwidth created by poverty directly impacts the cognitive control and fluid intelligence that we need for all kinds of everyday tasks.It's been oft noted that some political entities might have an interest in keeping citizens distracted and anxious, the idea being that less-informed voters are more easily swayed with simplistic sound bites and emotional appeals. This research suggests that, whether intentional or not, such a strategy might certainly be effective.
“When your bandwidth is loaded, in the case of the poor,” Shafir says, “you’re just more likely to not notice things, you’re more likely to not resist things you ought to resist, you’re more likely to forget things, you’re going to have less patience, less attention to devote to your children when they come back from school.”
At the macro level, this means we lost an enormous amount of cognitive ability during the recession. Millions of people had less bandwidth to give to their children, or to remember to take their medication.
Could this explain why some folks insist on cutting the food assistance benefits in the Farm Bill?