Money in the mental lives of the poor

Anuj K. Shah, Jiaying Zhao, Sendhil Mullainathan, Eldar Shafir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Recent research has studied how resource scarcity draws attention and creates cognitive load. As a result, scarcity improves some dimensions of cognitive function, while worsening others. Still, there remains a fundamental question: how does scarcity influence the content of cognition? In this article, we find that poor individuals (i.e., those facing monetary scarcity) see many everyday experiences through a different lens. Specifically, thoughts about cost and money are triggered by mundane circumstances, they are difficult to suppress, they change mental associations, and they interfere with other experiences. We suggest that the poor see an economic dimension to many everyday experiences that to others may not appear economic at all.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4-19
Number of pages16
JournalSocial Cognition
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


  • Attention
  • Financial concerns
  • Money
  • Scarcity
  • Spontaneous thoughts

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