Monday, September 2

How Poverty Taxes the Brain

To paraphrase Maugham son, poverty is a dull dreary affair and my earnest advise is to have nothing to do with it. It's really soul destroying son. It does reduce brainpower and it really does pain the mind. Hunger ruins everything. Poverty removes any kind of rational decision making. Which is why I keep on telling you to learn to save and invest. 

But I disagree that you can separate the poor out of the context. Both are entwined and both need to be addressed. A welfare state helps but too much can breed complacency and sloth as we have see. Do you know there are 3 million households in this country where nobody has a job? So you can say that it's because of a recession or rise of single households. Or that there are a million households where nobody ever held a job? Or hundreds of thousands of households where nobody in 3 generations ever held a job? Living in benefits? That's Jo life. That's a life for cattle. 



How Poverty Taxes the Brain

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Human mental bandwidth is finite. You’ve probably experienced this before (though maybe not in those terms): When you’re lost in concentration trying to solve a problem like a broken computer, you’re more likely to neglect other tasks, things like remembering to take the dog for a walk, or picking your kid up from school. This is why people who use cell phones behind the wheel actually perform worse as drivers. It’s why air traffic controllers focused on averting a mid-air collision are less likely to pay attention to other planes in the sky.

We only have so much cognitive capacity to spread around. It’s a scarce resource.

This understanding of the brain’s bandwidth could fundamentally change the way we think about poverty. Researchers publishing some groundbreaking findings today in the journal Science have concluded that poverty imposes such a massive cognitive load on the poor that they have little bandwidth left over to do many of the things that might lift them out of poverty – like go to night school, or search for a new job, or even remember to pay bills on time.

The condition of poverty imposed a mental burden akin to losing 13 IQ points

In a series of experiments run by researchers at Princeton, Harvard, and the University of Warwick, low-income people who were primed to think about financial problems performed poorly on a series of cognition tests, saddled with a mental load that was the equivalent of losing an entire night’s sleep. Put another way, the condition of poverty imposed a mental burden akin to losing 13 IQ points, or comparable to the cognitive difference that’s been observed between chronic alcoholics and normal adults.

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