Analysis: How poverty can drive down intelligence

Analysis: How poverty can drive down intelligence (PBS NewsHour)
A new study shows that poverty lowers IQ.

The usual side effects of poverty are abundant and well documented. They include crime, chronic stress and a long list of health conditions. But you may not have heard of this one: lower IQ. That’s according to a recent post by Alice Walton in the University of Chicago Business School’s journal, The Chicago Booth Review: “How poverty changes your mindset.” Walton, reviewing research with which I was troublingly unfamiliar, reports the bottom line: that poverty lowers your IQ — in one study, by something like 13 points.

When asked to explain these results, scholars disagree on the possible causes.

“Instead,” they write, in their depressing conclusion, “it appears that poverty itself reduces cognitive capacity.” (italics mine). “We suggest that this is because poverty-related concerns consume mental resources, leaving less for other tasks.”


Now this seems intuitively true. Or at least logical. Think of drivers on cell phones. Their communications concerns certainly “consume mental resources,” which is almost surely why traffic deaths in this country, which had dropped down near 30,000 a year, are now back up to 40,000 with the ubiquity of iPhones, Galaxies and the like. Just try counting backward from 100 by 7s — a standard test of mental acuity — while trying to figure out where exactly WAZE wants you turn, much less talking to your kids.


To the researchers, chaos costs — cognitively. How much?

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