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Poverty Narrows the Bandwidth of the Brain… and the Scale Isn’t Binary

July 1, 2015

Kathleen Ebbitt’s Global News article, “This is Your Brain on Poverty: 5 Facts” describes the neurological impact of poverty using the metaphor of bandwidth. She uses her personal experience of moderate financial stress as a starting point and then enumerates five broad findings on poverty:

  1. Research shows that a lack of money affects cognition
  2. Everyday hardships affect those in poverty more than those who are affluent because those with affluence can effectively buy coping mechanisms and/or their status makes them exempt from some stresses. For example, if a CEO is five minutes late for a meeting because his limo gets caught in traffic there are no consequences. A lower level employee, on the other hand, could lose their job if the bus they are taking makes them late for work.
  3. Children are impacted by poverty more so than adults.
  4. Brain scans show that the surface of the brain is different in those experiencing poverty…. and the brains of children whose parents earned $30,000-$50,000 varied considerably from those whose parents earned $90,000 to $110,000.
  5. The last “fact” is that something CAN be done about this… ranging from better school lunches to systemic changes to income distribution.

Alas, getting the things done that would change all of this seems increasingly unlikely as most politicians and many stressed people in the $30,000-$50,000 income range push back against efforts to help them and those who earn less.

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