Week 5: Psychology & Poverty

Apr 11, 2021

Welcome back to my blog everyone! This past week, I spent time researching how much being in poverty actually affects one’s mental health.

One reason social mobility is low is because of the many psychological barriers low-income individuals face, in addition to the ones placed on them by society. A study by researchers from Harvard, Princeton, University of Warwick, and University of British Columbia, found that working through a difficult financial problem produces a cognitive strain that’s equivalent to losing 13 points from your IQ, or losing a full night’s sleep. This was surprising to me, because I knew this was an issue, but until I saw a quantitative effect, I didn’t understand the magnitude of the effects.

Two of the same researchers along with one from UChicago Booth conducted a study that would evaluate the importance of scarce resources on problem-solving. Here is a description of the game by the researchers: “In an Angry Birds–style game in which people tried to shoot targets, rich players were given more chances to train a virtual slingshot on a target. Poor players, given fewer attempts, spent longer lining up their shots, and many scored more points per shot than rich players. For all the extra shots rich players had, they didn’t do as well, proportionally.”

Shah et al. 2012. Chicago Booth Review.


Basically, poverty led to initially good decisions, but then counterproductive ones after more chances were awarded. I thought this was relevant because perhaps it’s not just about more chances, but learning about the correct decisions. Since rich people have more “room for error” when making decisions, their average with a no more chances was lower than average.

Along with this is exclusion from the many other higher income individuals. Low-income individuals start to perceive themselves in a negative light, which can ruin their self-esteem. One way to understand this is by looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Let’s call this Maslow’s Mobility 🙂

Simply Psychology


People in poverty already struggle with physiological and safety needs. According to DoSomething.org, 15 million households were food insecure in 2017. If the basic needs are unable to be met, how do we expect for people to meet their psychological and self-fulfillment needs? Increasing social mobility would not only fulfill basic needs, but would allow for many people to reach self-actualization and fulfill their potential.

A forgotten aspect of social mobility is the psychological barriers low-income families face. Going back to my research on city structure, I believe fixing city structure could have a positive affect on low-income families psychology. Resources are allocated more evenly and there’s less class division. Hopefully there will be policies/programs implemented that will relieve low-income families of the stress they face and allow for upward mobility.

See y’all next week!

One Reply to “Week 5: Psychology & Poverty”

  1. Mr. Loomis says:

    Unchecked capitalism is certainly not helping the situation here in the United States. When the CEO’s of Amazon and Walmart earn hundreds of millions of dollars in salary and bonuses while their ordinary workers struggle just to earn minimum wage, it takes a toll on one’s psychological well being.

Leave a Reply