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Poverty Can Impede Cognitive Function, Study Says

e_g2UC6HC5Je9kr8sAqub023WCuLHZCpmx9FGmOWaXpKAQAA6wAAAEpQ_260x196Recently, a research article was published on Science that scientists from University of Warwick, Harvard University, Princeton University and University of British Columbia found that poverty can impede human’s cognitive functions. However, the results can’t be interpreted as “poverty can lower one’s IQ”.

 Using two different but complementary researches, Anandi Mani from University of Warwick and co-workers proved that poverty and cognitive ability have causal relationship. The article pointed out that the mechanism of poverty lowering cognitive ability might be attention diversion, namely the consumption of attention due to poverty resulted in inability to deal with other matters. Thus, poor people have to deal with the dual deficiency of money and cognitive ability.

The experiments were divided into indoor test and field study. In indoor test, Mani and co-workers conducted a series experiments on consumers in a shopping mall at New Jersey. The participants were asked to imagine certain economic incidents such as spending money or auto repair. The economic incidents were categorized into “easy” or “hard “based on the expenditure of each activities, for example, a $150 auto repair fee was considered to be “easy” while $1,500 was “hard”. In addition, the participants also needed to think about how to deal with the activities.

Then, the participants would take part in RPM and spatial coordination test. The former test was for evaluation of logical thinking and ability to solve new problems, while the latter test was to assess cognitive control. The results revealed that when facing with easy incidents, the high-income subjects behaved similar with the low-income subjects. However, when hard incidents were presented, the low-income subjects showed significantly decreased cognitive ability, while the high-income subjects remained the original behavior.

 YN7urGeW_dXuiQf0AUyF-cCx0gq9FegFuJq3lkEIhWNLAgAACgEAAFBOUpon facing with “easy” (light color) and “hard” (dark color) incidents, the poor and rich subjects’ RPM test results were shown in above figures. The left figure is the accuracy in RPM test while the right one is that in cognitive control test.

In field study, researchers tested 464 sugarcane growers from 54 villages in India sugarcane area in terms of their cognitive ability difference between and after harvest.  The sugarcane growers bear huge economic stress before harvest and they have higher probability to pawn properties or borrow money compared with that after the harvest.  Under such circumstances, the sugarcane growers behaved poorly in cognitive test, however, after their harvest with income in hand, their cognitive ability was improved significantly.

 s9Cnis0IEhU1Y7yqx_pOC0yDhUQgUMome-OWbLI3m_WFAwAAOQEAAFBO_645x224The sugarcane growers’ pre-harvest and post-harvest behaviors in RPM test and another cognitive control test. Left: The sugarcane growers ‘accuracy in RPM test; Middle: The sugarcane growers ‘reaction time in cognitive control test; Right: The error rates of the sugarcane growers in the cognitive test.

The negative effect of poverty on cognition might lead to severe consequences. Such negative effect on the poor subjects in indoor study is comparable with the impairment of losing a whole night’s sleeping on cognition. In addition, if the average IQ of an individual is 100 with a standard deviation of 15, then the negative effect due to poverty in this study is approximately 13.

Therefore, policy makers should fully understand the poverty’s influence on individual’s cognitive ability. When comes to taxation, the policy makers should simplify the process and provide assistance for poor people; for instance, programs such as advertisements on agricultural information should be initiated after the harvest season.

SourceScienceMagPoverty Impedes Cognitive Function

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