(372) Studies indicate poverty impairs cognitive ability

worryThe poor are stupid.  You’ve probably heard somebody say this at least once.  Maybe you’ve used the phrase yourself.

Perhaps at times the speaker is expressing frustration with what seems like an ability on the part of those in social difficulty to compound their own problems, be their own enemy.  At other times, of course, this statement is merely nasty, reductive, inarticulate, and hateful.  But what if there was a neuroscience of poverty?  What would we have to say if there appeared to be evidence the stress of poverty impaired your cognition and made you less able to handle complex situations?  Research along these lines ought to make us stop in our tracks whether we describe ourselves as left leaning, right wing, centrist or politically indifferent.

The journal Science has just presented two studies indicating the stress of poverty reduces human cognitive function.  This reduction in function may help to explain decisions and behaviours on the part of the poor that seem to perpetuate or intensify their own difficulties.  Shoppers in New Jersey and rice farmers in India were the subjects of study.  Individuals demonstrated difficulty with spatial and reasoning tasks when known to be burdened by processing their problematic financial status.  The impairment was seen to equal the loss of an entire night’s sleep or being a chronic alcoholic, some 13 IQ points.  The studies are available at www.sciencemag.org and were picked up by the mass media in several countries.

Is your money on your mind?

Poverty saps mental capacity to deal with complex tasks, say scientists: study suggests being preoccupied with money problems is equivalent to loss of 13 IQ points or losing a night’s sleep guardian.com