Can poverty lower one’s IQ? It can, according to new research conducted from Harvard, Princeton and various universities throughout North America and the U.K. According to the World Bank, nearly 663 million people are living in extreme levels of poverty around the world. The US Census Bureau says that more than 16 percent of the U.S. population lives at the poverty line. Child poverty rates reached record levels in 2011 with 16.7 million children living in households in America struggling to make ends meet. With families stumbling to put food on the table, it is said that little else is left to power their brains through other areas needed for cognitive functioning, lowering one’s IQ due to the effects of poverty.
The studies suggested that those on tight budgets experience a level of stress that can lower the effects of overall brain power. Individuals affected by financial stress showed a 13 point drop in IQ, the same results expected from someone having had missed a night of sleep. “The poor are often highly effective at focusing on and dealing with pressing problems,” said professor of psychology and public affairs, Eldar Shafir, who worked on the research team, “but they don’t have leftover bandwidth to devote to other tasks.”
Researchers looked at two separate groups of people – shoppers in the U.S. all the way to sugar cane farmers in India – to measure IQ performances and impulsive decision making. Using mall participants in the former study, shoppers were asked financial questions like what they would do if their car broke down and they had to spend $1,500 for repair costs. Would they pay it in full? Take out a loan? Or put the fix off entirely? Those defined as poor and rich performed equally well when the cost scenario was lowered to $150, but with the price bumped, answers from the poorer participants led to a dip in regards to performance decision making. With the latter study in India, farmers cognitive performance were swayed whether they were making money or not on their harvests. Those who were not performed poorly.
“The interesting thing about this perspective,” said Shafir, “Is that it says if I make your financial life easier [I can] look at how you’re doing in your life [overall].” Shafir notes the studies that say poverty can lower one’s IQ is related to the, “mental bandwidth,” which, when full, can lessen the ability to notice the things going on around them. This lessened paying attention to detail can affect the way in which one remembers things and responds to problems. The findings also challenge the claim that people are responsible for being in poverty, and instead points to the struggles of their situations keeping them from making more solvable decisions.
The American Enterprise Institute once claimed that income and intelligence were linked. Thought to be a controversial study, Shafir is quick to explain that this new data, “[was] not about poor people, but about people who happen to be in poverty.”
So while being poor does not automatically make one less intelligent, these studies show that the effects of poverty can lower one’s IQ when it comes to not only financial responsibilities, but particular life skills needed to create a better situation.
Written by Annie Elizabeth Martin