Princeton University study: Poverty saps mental resources

1 Sep

Moi wrote in 3rd world America: The link between poverty and education:
Moi blogs about education issues so the reader could be perplexed sometimes because moi often writes about other things like nutrition, families, and personal responsibility issues. Why? The reader might ask? Children will have the most success in school if they are ready to learn. Ready to learn includes proper nutrition for a healthy body and the optimum situation for children is a healthy family. Many of society’s problems would be lessened if the goal was a healthy child in a healthy family. There is a lot of economic stress in the country now because of unemployment and underemployment. Children feel the stress of their parents and they worry about how stable their family and living situation is.
The best way to eliminate poverty is job creation, job growth, and job retention. The Asian Development Bank has the best concise synopsis of the link between Education and Poverty http://www.adb.org/documents/assessing-development-impact-breaking-cycle-poverty-through-education For a good article about education and poverty which has a good bibliography, go to Poverty and Education, Overview http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/2330/Poverty-Education.html There will not be a good quality of life for most citizens without a strong education system. One of the major contributors to poverty in third world nations is limited access to education opportunities. Without continued sustained investment in education in this state, we are the next third world country.
https://drwilda.com/2011/11/20/3rd-world-america-the-link-between-poverty-and-education/

Amina Khan wrote in the LA Times article, Poverty can sap brainpower, research shows:

Whether you’re a New Jersey mall rat or a farmer in India, being poor can sap your smarts. In fact, the mental energy required to make do with scarce resources taxes the brain so much that it can perpetuate the cycle of poverty, new research shows.
The findings, published in Friday’s edition of the journal Science, indicate that an urgent need — making rent, getting money for food — tugs at the attention so much that it can reduce the brainpower of anyone who experiences it, regardless of innate intelligence or personality. As a result, many social welfare programs set up to help the poor could backfire by adding more complexity to their lives.
“I think it’s a game changer,” said Kathleen Vohs, a behavioral scientist at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, who wasn’t involved with the study.
There’s a widespread tendency to assume that poor people don’t have money because they are lazy, unmotivated or just not that sharp, said study coauthor Sendhil Mullainathan, a behavioral economist at Harvard University.
“That’s a broad narrative that’s pretty common,” Mullainathan said. “Our intuition was quite different: It’s not that poor people are any different than rich people, but that being poor in itself has an effect.”
The problem is that it’s hard to devise experiments to test this, said Eric J. Johnson, a psychologist…..
http://www.latimes.com/science/la-sci-poverty-iq-20130831,0,2261441.story

Here is the press release from Princeton:

Poor concentration: Poverty reduces brainpower needed for navigating other areas of life
Posted August 29, 2013; 02:00 p.m.
by Morgan Kelly, Office of Communications
Poverty and all its related concerns require so much mental energy that the poor have less remaining brainpower to devote to other areas of life, according to research based at Princeton University. As a result, people of limited means are more likely to make mistakes and bad decisions that may be amplified by — and perpetuate — their financial woes.
Published in the journal Science, the study presents a unique perspective regarding the causes of persistent poverty. The researchers suggest that being poor may keep a person from concentrating on the very avenues that would lead them out of poverty. A person’s cognitive function is diminished by the constant and all-consuming effort of coping with the immediate effects of having little money, such as scrounging to pay bills and cut costs. Thusly, a person is left with fewer “mental resources” to focus on complicated, indirectly related matters such as education, job training and even managing their time.
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.
Research based at Princeton University found that poverty and all its related concerns require so much mental energy that the poor have less remaining brainpower to devote to other areas of life. Experiments showed that the impact of financial concerns on the cognitive function of low-income individuals was similar to a 13-point dip in IQ, or the loss of an entire night’s sleep. To gauge the influence of poverty in natural contexts, the researchers tested 464 sugarcane farmers in India who rely on the annual harvest for at least 60 percent of their income. Each farmer performed better on common fluid-intelligence and cognition tests post-harvest compared to pre-harvest.
But when their concerns were benign, low-income individuals performed competently, at a similar level to people who were well off, said corresponding author Jiaying Zhao, who conducted the study as a doctoral student in the lab of co-author Eldar Shafir, Princeton’s William Stewart Tod Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs. Zhao and Shafir worked with Anandi Mani, an associate professor of economics at the University of Warwick in Britain, and Sendhil Mullainathan, a Harvard University economics professor.
“These pressures create a salient concern in the mind and draw mental resources to the problem itself. That means we are unable to focus on other things in life that need our attention,” said Zhao, who is now an assistant professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia.
“Previous views of poverty have blamed poverty on personal failings, or an environment that is not conducive to success,” she said. “We’re arguing that the lack of financial resources itself can lead to impaired cognitive function. The very condition of not having enough can actually be a cause of poverty.”
The mental tax that poverty can put on the brain is distinct from stress, Shafir explained. Stress is a person’s response to various outside pressures that — according to studies of arousal and performance — can actually enhance a person’s functioning, he said. In the Science study, Shafir and his colleagues instead describe an immediate rather than chronic preoccupation with limited resources that can be a detriment to unrelated yet still important tasks.
“Stress itself doesn’t predict that people can’t perform well — they may do better up to a point,” Shafir said. “A person in poverty might be at the high part of the performance curve when it comes to a specific task and, in fact, we show that they do well on the problem at hand. But they don’t have leftover bandwidth to devote to other tasks. The poor are often highly effective at focusing on and dealing with pressing problems. It’s the other tasks where they perform poorly.”
The fallout of neglecting other areas of life may loom larger for a person just scraping by, Shafir said. Late fees tacked on to a forgotten rent payment, a job lost because of poor time-management — these make a tight money situation worse. And as people get poorer, they tend to make difficult and often costly decisions that further perpetuate their hardship, Shafir said. He and Mullainathan were co-authors on a 2012 Science paper that reported a higher likelihood of poor people to engage in behaviors that reinforce the conditions of poverty, such as excessive borrowing.
“They can make the same mistakes, but the outcomes of errors are more dear,” Shafir said. “So, if you live in poverty, you’re more error prone and errors cost you more dearly — it’s hard to find a way out.”
The first set of experiments took place in a New Jersey mall between 2010 and 2011 with roughly 400 subjects chosen at random. Their median annual income was around $70,000 and the lowest income was around $20,000. The researchers created scenarios wherein subjects had to ponder how they would solve financial problems, for example, whether they would handle a sudden car repair by paying in full, borrowing money or putting the repairs off. Participants were assigned either an “easy” or “hard” scenario in which the cost was low or high — such as $150 or $1,500 for the car repair. While participants pondered these scenarios, they performed common fluid-intelligence and cognition tests.
Subjects were divided into a “poor” group and a “rich” group based on their income. The study showed that when the scenarios were easy — the financial problems not too severe — the poor and rich performed equally well on the cognitive tests. But when they thought about the hard scenarios, people at the lower end of the income scale performed significantly worse on both cognitive tests, while the rich participants were unfazed.
To better gauge the influence of poverty in natural contexts, between 2010 and 2011 the researchers also tested 464 sugarcane farmers in India who rely on the annual harvest for at least 60 percent of their income. Because sugarcane harvests occur once a year, these are farmers who find themselves rich after harvest and poor before it. Each farmer was given the same tests before and after the harvest, and performed better on both tests post-harvest compared to pre-harvest.
The cognitive effect of poverty the researchers found relates to the more general influence of “scarcity” on cognition, which is the larger focus of Shafir’s research group. Scarcity in this case relates to any deficit — be it in money, time, social ties or even calories — that people experience in trying to meet their needs. Scarcity consumes “mental bandwidth” that would otherwise go to other concerns in life, Zhao said.
“These findings fit in with our story of how scarcity captures attention. It consumes your mental bandwidth,” Zhao said. “Just asking a poor person to think about hypothetical financial problems reduces mental bandwidth. This is an acute, immediate impact, and has implications for scarcity of resources of any kind.”
“We documented similar effects among people who are not otherwise poor, but on whom we imposed scarce resources,” Shafir added. “It’s not about being a poor person — it’s about living in poverty.”
Many types of scarcity are temporary and often discretionary, said Shafir, who is co-author with Mullainathan of the book, “Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much,” to be published in September. For instance, a person pressed for time can reschedule appointments, cancel something or even decide to take on less.
“When you’re poor you can’t say, ‘I’ve had enough, I’m not going to be poor anymore.’ Or, ‘Forget it, I just won’t give my kids dinner, or pay rent this month.’ Poverty imposes a much stronger load that’s not optional and in very many cases is long lasting,” Shafir said. “It’s not a choice you’re making — you’re just reduced to few options. This is not something you see with many other types of scarcity.”
The researchers suggest that services for the poor should accommodate the dominance that poverty has on a person’s time and thinking. Such steps would include simpler aid forms and more guidance in receiving assistance, or training and educational programs structured to be more forgiving of unexpected absences, so that a person who has stumbled can more easily try again.
“You want to design a context that is more scarcity proof,” said Shafir, noting that better-off people have access to regular support in their daily lives, be it a computer reminder, a personal assistant, a housecleaner or a babysitter.
“There’s very little you can do with time to get more money, but a lot you can do with money to get more time,” Shafir said. “The poor, who our research suggests are bound to make more mistakes and pay more dearly for errors, inhabit contexts often not designed to help.”
The paper, “Poverty impedes cognitive function,” was published Aug. 30 by Science. The work was supported by the National Science Foundation (award number SES-0933497), the International Finance Corporation and the IFMR Trust in India
http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S37/75/69M50/index.xml?section=topstories

Citation:

Sciencewww.sciencemag.org
Science 30 August 2013:
Vol. 341 no. 6149 pp. 976-980
DOI: 10.1126/science.1238041
• Research Article
Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function
1. Anandi Mani1,
2. Sendhil Mullainathan2,*,
3. Eldar Shafir3,*,
4. Jiaying Zhao4
+ Author Affiliations
1. 1Department of Economics, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK.
2. 2Department of Economics, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.
3. 3Department of Psychology and Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08540, USA.
4. 4Department of Psychology and Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z4, Canada.
1. ↵*Corresponding author. E-mail: mullain@fas.harvard.edu (S.M.); shafir@princeton.edu (E.S.)
• Abstract
• Editor’s Summary
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.
• Received for publication 19 March 2013.
• Accepted for publication 23 July 2013.
Read the Full Text
The editors suggest the following Related Resources on Science sites
In Science Magazine
• Perspective Psychology The Poor’s Poor Mental Power
o Kathleen D. Vohs
Science 30 August 2013: 969-970.

Moi wrote in 3rd world America: Money changes everything:
Sabrina Tavernise wrote an excellent New York Times article, Education Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor, Studies Say:

It is a well-known fact that children from affluent families tend to do better in school. Yet the income divide has received far less attention from policy makers and government officials than gaps in student accomplishment by race.
Now, in analyses of long-term data published in recent months, researchers are finding that while the achievement gap between white and black students has narrowed significantly over the past few decades, the gap between rich and poor students has grown substantially during the same period.
“We have moved from a society in the 1950s and 1960s, in which race was more consequential than family income, to one today in which family income appears more determinative of educational success than race,” said Sean F. Reardon, a Stanford University sociologist. Professor Reardon is the author of a study that found that the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students had grown by about 40 percent since the 1960s, and is now double the testing gap between blacks and whites.
In another study, by researchers from the University of Michigan, the imbalance between rich and poor children in college completion — the single most important predictor of success in the work force — has grown by about 50 percent since the late 1980s.
The changes are tectonic, a result of social and economic processes unfolding over many decades. The data from most of these studies end in 2007 and 2008, before the recession’s full impact was felt. Researchers said that based on experiences during past recessions, the recent downturn was likely to have aggravated the trend.
“With income declines more severe in the lower brackets, there’s a good chance the recession may have widened the gap,” Professor Reardon said. In the study he led, researchers analyzed 12 sets of standardized test scores starting in 1960 and ending in 2007. He compared children from families in the 90th percentile of income — the equivalent of around $160,000 in 2008, when the study was conducted — and children from the 10th percentile, $17,500 in 2008. By the end of that period, the achievement gap by income had grown by 40 percent, he said, while the gap between white and black students, regardless of income, had shrunk substantially.
Both studies were first published last fall in a book of research, “Whither Opportunity?” compiled by the Russell Sage Foundation, a research center for social sciences, and the Spencer Foundation, which focuses on education. Their conclusions, while familiar to a small core of social sciences scholars, are now catching the attention of a broader audience, in part because income inequality has been a central theme this election season.
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/10/education/education-gap-grows-between-rich-and-poor-studies-show.html?emc=eta1

Teachers and schools have been made TOTALLY responsible for the education outcome of the children, many of whom come to school not ready to learn and who reside in families that for a variety of reasons cannot support their education. All children are capable of learning, but a one-size-fits-all approach does not serve all children well. Different populations of children will require different strategies and some children will require remedial help, early intervention, and family support to achieve their education goals. https://drwilda.com/2012/02/11/3rd-world-america-money-changes-everything/

ALL children have a right to a good basic education.

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