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Princeton Study: Being Poor Can Lower Your IQ

From an unquestioning Slate Magazine:

Bad Decisions Don’t Make You Poor. Being Poor Makes for Bad Decisions.

New research shows that worrying about money causes cognitive impairments.

By Matthew Yglesias | Sept. 3, 2013

… A study published last week in the journal Science shows that the stress of worrying about finances can impair cognitive functions in a meaningful way. The authors gathered evidence from both low-income Americans (at a New Jersey shopping mall) and the global poor (looking at farmers in Tamil Nadu, India) and found that just contemplating a projected financial decision impacted performance on spatial and reasoning tests.

Among Americans, they found that low-income people asked to ponder an expensive car repair did worse on cognitive-function tests than low-income people asked to consider cheaper repairs or than higher-income people faced with either scenario. To study the global poor, the researchers looked at performance on cognitive tests before and after the harvest among sugarcane farmers. Since it’s a cash crop rather than a food one, the harvest signals a change in financial security but not a nutritional one. They found that the more secure postharvest farmers performed better than the more anxious preharvest ones.

A quiz of people at a New Jersey shopping mall and some farmers in India — that’s what passes for ‘science’ these days. It is if you have an agenda you want to push.

These findings complement the already extensive literature of the negative physical impacts of low socioeconomic status, reinforcing the point that the harms of poverty extend beyond the direct consequences of material deprivation.

But the impact on cognitive skills is especially noteworthy for how it should influence our understanding of poverty. Poor people—like all people—make some bad choices. There is some evidence that poor people make more of these bad choices than the average person. This evidence can easily lead to the blithe conclusion that bad choices, rather than economic conditions, are the cause of poverty. The new research shows that this is—at least to some extent—exactly backward. It’s poverty itself (perhaps mediated by the unusually severe forms of decision fatigue than can affect the poor) that undermines judgment and leads to poor decision-making.

So using your mind a lot lowers your IQ? Who knew?

This effect may be an important psychological underpinning of recent economics research on the merits of unconditional cash transfers to the poor.

We didn’t see that coming.

Researchers have found that one-time grants of cash to poor Ugandans produced large observable gains in income as far as four years down the road. The easiest way to understand that is simply as a tangible return on investment earned by the initial infusion of funds. But perhaps the mental relief provided by the cash cushion actually allowed for sharper decision-making and problem-solving…

Which is why families who have been on public welfare for generations do so well and are so bright.

Most low-income Americans aren’t poor at all by global standards, so evidence from successful anti-poverty programs in the developing world are difficult to apply to domestic poverty. That’s why it’s so telling and fascinating that a study on the cognitive downsides of poverty would find identical results in New Jersey and Tamil Nadu…

Unless there was fudging going on.

Much work on domestic poverty rightly emphasizes the idea of skills and “human capital” needed to navigate a complicated modern economy. This naturally leads to a focus on education, whether in the guise of various school-reform crusades or the push to bring high-quality, affordable preschool to more households. But adults need help, too, and the perception that poor adults—as opposed to presumably innocent children—are irresponsible often leads to reluctance to treat adults as adults who are capable of deciding for themselves how best to use financial resources.

This paternalistic notion that we should be relatively stingy with help, and make sure to attach it to complicated eligibility requirements and tests, may itself be contributing to the problem of poverty. At home or abroad, the strain of constantly worrying about money is a substantial barrier to the smart decision-making that people in tough circumstances need to succeed. One of the best ways to help the poor help themselves, in other words, is to simply make them less poor.

Shazzam. Why didn’t we think of that before? We need to do something and quick. Like create a ‘Great Society.’

This article was posted by Steve Gilbert on Thursday, September 5th, 2013. Comments are currently closed.

4 Responses to “Princeton Study: Being Poor Can Lower Your IQ”

  1. The answer obviously will be more of my money. Only My Money will solve Their Problems. It’s simple. I’m a cow. Milk me.

  2. mr_bill

    So giving people money will make them smarter? What’s John Kerry’s excuse, then?

  3. From NewsMax Health:

    Researchers Tie Lower Incomes to Migraines

    Thursday, 05 Sep 2013 01:16 PM

    In a large new U.S. study, migraine headaches were found to be more likely to happen to people with lower household incomes, but tended to go into remission at the same rate for people at all income levels.

    It was already well know that migraines were associated with lower income, said the new study’s lead author Walter Stewart of Sutter Health in Concord, California. His first research suggesting the idea was published in 1992.

    Not in my experience. My brother had a very well paying job at a lumber company. He constantly complained of migraines. After the company went out of bussiness and he later went on disability for depression, his income was much lower, his stress of work was gone and his migraines disappeared. He’s living the life of Riley.

    Since most people who get migraines eventually go into remission, he said, researchers wondered if remission was more common for people with higher incomes, which would have explained the connection between headaches and lower earnings.

    For both men and women, migraines became more common as income decreased.

    “It has been hypothesized that a low socio-economic status is associated with more stressful life events (such as trauma, poor healthcare, ie. financial stress),” Dr. Barbara Lee Peterlin, director of headache research at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, told Reuters by email.

    Again, not by my experience. I see “poor” people lounging around on their front porches or under the shade tree drinking 40′s, smoking weed, laughing loudly and speaking on their Obama phones.

    I don’t think hangovers are the same as migraines.

    With the taxpayers covering their food, rent, medical care, electricity and heating bills, plus a little cash on the side, I don’t see them stressing over a damn thing.

    The hardest decision these people make is whether to cook rib-eyes, NY strips, pork chops or chicken on the grill tonight and what kind of rims to put on the Cadillac Escalade or BMW’s.

    Stewart’s group did not account for several factors that could influence the onset or remission of migraines, ranging from alcohol and tobacco use to access to healthcare.

    How convienant. What nonsense.




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