Poverty Impedes Cognitive FunctionISER External Seminars

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 induce thoughts about finances, and find that this reduces cognitive performance among poor but not in well-off participants. Second, we examine the cognitive function of farmers over the planting cycle. We find that the same farmer shows diminished cognitive performance before harvest when poor, compared to after harvest, when rich. This, we find, cannot be explained by differences in time available, nutrition, or work effort. Nor can stress: while farmers do show more stress pre-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 novel perspective, and helps explain a spectrum of behaviors among the poor. We discuss some implications for poverty policy.

Presented by:

Anandi Mani (University of Warwick)

Date & time:

13 Jan 2014 16:00 pm - 13 Jan 2014 17:30 pm

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