Poverty impedes cognitive function

Anandi Mani, Sendhil Mullainathan, Eldar Shafir, Jiaying Zhao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

683 Scopus citations

Abstract

The poor often behave in less capable ways, which can further perpetuate poverty. We hypothesize that poverty directly impedes cognitive function and present two studies that test this hypothesis. First, we experimentally induced thoughts about finances and found that this reduces cognitive performance among poor but not in well-off participants. Second, we examined the cognitive function of farmers over the planting cycle. We found that the same farmer shows diminished cognitive performance before harvest, when poor, as compared with after harvest, when rich. This cannot be explained by differences in time available, nutrition, or work effort. Nor can it be explained with stress: Although farmers do show more stress before harvest, that does not account for diminished cognitive performance. Instead, it appears that poverty itself reduces cognitive capacity. We suggest that this is because poverty-related concerns consume mental resources, leaving less for other tasks. These data provide a previously unexamined perspective and help explain a spectrum of behaviors among the poor. We discuss some implications for poverty policy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)976-980
Number of pages5
JournalScience
Volume341
Issue number6149
DOIs
StatePublished - 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Poverty impedes cognitive function'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this

    Mani, A., Mullainathan, S., Shafir, E., & Zhao, J. (2013). Poverty impedes cognitive function. Science, 341(6149), 976-980. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1238041