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Poverty depletes brain capacity, study finds

New research suggests the effects of poverty weigh on the brain and deplete brain capacity in individuals from low-income backgrounds.
New research suggests the effects of poverty weigh on the brain and deplete brain capacity in individuals from low-income backgrounds.
Chepko Danil, Getty Images/iStockphoto

People in poverty may have to work harder to pool their resources together — not just monetarily speaking.

New research shows that the wide-sweeping effects of poverty, such as financial strain, living paycheck to paycheck and a lack of resources, may be overly taxing to the brain.

"It sucks up so much mental bandwidth … that the poor have fewer cognitive resources left over to succeed at parenting, education, or work," according to an article in The Atlantic Cities.

Research released in August supports this information, stating that those living in poverty may not have the mental ability to alter their living conditions.

"Poverty imposes such a massive cognitive load on the poor that they have little bandwidth left over to do many of the things that might lift them out of poverty — like go to night school, or search for a new job, or even remember to pay bills on time," according to a related article in The Atlantic Cities.

According to the article, research at universities like Princeton and Harvard showed that the proverbial cognitive gap between impoverished and non-impoverished individuals is equivalent to the difference between chronic alcoholics and normal adults.

It also includes a gap in intelligence.

"The condition of poverty imposed a mental burden akin to losing 13 IQ points," the Atlantic Cities reported.

According to the first article, scientists also hypothesize that the effects of poverty continue to affect people throughout the years.

"Live in poverty for years, or even generations, and its effects grow more insidious. Live in poverty as a child, and it affects you as an adult, too," the article reports.

Additional research in a similar vein supports this theory.

Several major universities, including the University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Michigan and University of Denver, conducted a longitudinal study of 9-year-old children into their early 20s.

"Those who grew up poor later had impaired brain function as adults — a disadvantage researchers could literally see in the activity of the amygdala and prefrontal cortex on an fMRI scan," according to the article.

Essentially, it was harder for children from low-economic backgrounds to regulate their emotions.

According to the article, "These same patterns of 'dysregulation' in the brain have been observed in people with depression, anxiety disorders, aggression and post-traumatic stress disorders."


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