VANCOUVER, Aug. 29, (Xinhua) -- Poverty consumes so much mental energy that those who are poor have little remaining brainpower to concentrate on other areas of life, thus are more likely to make bad decisions that worsens their situations, according to a new study.
The study, published Thursday in the journal Science, suggests that when people are exhausted in dealing with tasks like scrounging to pay bills, less "mental bandwidth" remains for education, training, time-management, and other steps that could help break out of the cycles of poverty.
"Previous accounts of poverty have blamed the poor for their personal failings, or an environment that is not conducive to success," said lead author Jiaying Zhao, a professor from the University of British Columbia's Department of Psychology.
"We're arguing that being poor can impair cognitive functioning, which hinders individuals' ability to make good decisions and can cause further poverty."
In the study, the researchers found that pressing financial concerns had an immediate negative impact on the ability of low-income individuals to perform on common cognitive and logic tests. On average, a person preoccupied with money problems exhibited a drop in cognitive function similar to a 13-point dip in IQ.
In another series of field experiments, the researchers found that farmers show diminished cognitive performance before getting paid for their harvest, compared to after when they had greater wealth.
These differences in cognitive functioning could not be explained by differences in nutrition, physical exertion, time availability or stress, said the researchers.
They also suggested that services for the poor should better accommodate the strain that poverty places on a person' s mind, such as simpler aid forms and more guidance to receiving assistance.