Princeton University Study Finds That Poverty Impedes Cognitive Functions

princeton-university-logoA study led by researchers at Princeton University finds that poverty and its related stresses puts such a burden on people’s mental state that they have less brainpower to deal with other aspects of life. In short, poverty taxes brainpower to such an extent that it inhibits those in poverty from improving their state in life.

According to the study’s authors, “being poor may keep a person from concentrating on the very avenues that would lead them out of poverty. A person’s cognitive function is diminished by the constant and all-consuming effort of coping with the immediate effects of having little money, such as scrounging to pay bills and cut costs. Thusly, a person is left with fewer ‘mental resources’ to focus on complicated, indirectly related matters such as education, job training and even managing their time.”

The paper, “Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function,” was published in the August 30 edition of the journal Science.

Related Articles


  1. Sadly, the interventions are usually focused on changing people rather than the conditions of poverty. The cynical side of me predicts that it won’t be long before we see drug therapies for people in poverty. I will also have to read the study in more detail to see how these findings emerged across race and gender. More importantly, I hope studies like this are not just part of a new wave of scientific racism that attempts to frame negative responses to poverty in genetic terms.

  2. mathprof–i agree. i would also like to add my not so scientific reaction to the study: duh!!! it’s HARD to be poor! more seriously, yes, the focus should be on implementation of policy to alleviate/eradicate poverty.

    • I’m with you, Caribbean Queen. DUH!! Do we really need a study of this magnitude to address the obvious? And how much time, effort, and money went into this revelation? As an academic and woman of color, I, too, would like to see the findings in more detail, referencing the relationship to class, race, and gender. However, as with so much research in the social sciences, we spend huge amounts of time uncovering the obvious and actually addressing nothing. Certainly, if you’re sitting in class about to be evicted from your home, you can’t afford reflection time. My poor, uneducated grandmother could have told you all of this, and then some.

    • I agree as well Carribean Queen. The thought of an impoverished mind will definately close out potential resources to help eradicate poverty. With so many groups that focus their big view around this very subject one of which I attend is Circles off Indiana. We come together with wanted and intentional relationships to help eradicate poverty one person at a time. By doing so we’ve learned when people don’t have enough money to meet their basic needs, they are in poverty. But money is only one of 11 resources that everyone needs in order to live well.. Ruby Payne defines poverty as how much a person does without resources. Which is why money is obviously one of the resources. Most of what we’ve rooted our analysis came from Philip E. Devol’s workbook Getting Ahead in a Just Getting’ By World.

  3. I went to the Journal Science site to see the findings, however the article cannot be accessed without a purchase or subscription. It is $20.00 USD to purchase access to the article for one day, and $310.00 USD to subscribe if you are not a professional member ($99), K-12 teacher with verification ($70)or post doctoral resident or student ($50). It is not only cognitive function but also access to intellectual enhancement which is impeded by poverty. The Abstract and Materials/Methods, Supplementary Text, Tables, Figures, and/or References are free.

Leave a Reply

Get the JBHE Weekly Bulletin

Receive our weekly email newsletter delivered to your inbox

Latest News

Three African Americans Appointed to New Academic Positions

Leon Prieto, Kofi Afrifah, and Andrea Moore have been appointed to new academic positions at Clayton University, Bowie State University, and Savannah State University, respectively.

Historic HBCU Landmark Revitalized Through National Park Service Grant

Through three restoration grants totaling $2 million, the Rosenwald Practice School and Principal House will be fully restored, becoming the new home for the Northeastern North Carolina African American Research and Cultural Heritage Institute.

Five Black Leaders Appointed to Administrative Positions

Here is this week’s roundup of African American who have been appointed to new administrative positions at colleges and universities throughout the United States. If you have news for our appointments section, please email the information to

North Carolina A&T University Establishes Research Partnership with Collins Aerospace

“There are direct relations to the research we do in the College of Engineering and the mission purpose of Collins Aerospace,” said Stephanie Luster-Teasley, interim dean of the College of Engineering at North Carolina A&T State University. “Being able to partner with Collins really gives our students the opportunities for hands-on research at each level – undergraduate and graduate.”

Featured Jobs