How poverty affects the brain and human behavior and what is the 'immigrant paradox': scientists surprised by the answer
Researchers have shared findings on the psychological effects of living with limited financial resources and low socioeconomic status compared to affluence. Psychological research has shown that poverty extends from one generation to the next, trapping people in a socioeconomic hole from which it is almost impossible to escape.
The reason for the endless cycle of poverty is its overwhelming effect on human cognitive development, especially during childhood. Such data were demonstrated by scientists during the First International Congress of Psychological Sciences, the journal Psychological Science reported.
Numerous studies have shown that people who face stressors such as low family income, discrimination, limited access to health care, exposure to crime, and other conditions of low socioeconomic status are prone to physical and mental disorders, low educational attainment, and low IQ scores.
In addition, if a person experiences poverty as a child, their cognitive processes are more impaired. Memory is particularly vulnerable, in part because of parents' inability to respond to and support their child under the stressful conditions of poverty. Researchers examined data from a developmental study in which a group of children were tracked over 20 years. When the children were 4-8 years old, research assistants went to their homes to record various details of their upbringing. For example, they looked at cognitive stimulation in the home, such as the presence of books or educational toys. They interviewed parents and observed their interactions with their children. They paid particular attention to how much warmth and care each child received from their parents.
Research has shown that a large amount of cognitive stimulation at an earlier age improved children's language development. Researchers found that high levels of parental care between the ages of 4-8 years old improved a child's memory in middle school.
"Surveys have shown that a very common belief about why poor people are poor is that they don't try hard enough, they're irresponsible, they make bad decisions, they don't learn in school, and so on. But neurons don't deserve censure or praise. They don't waste effort. They don't have good or bad behavior. They simply behave according to the laws of the natural world," the scientists explained.
Research also shows that poverty in early childhood can be more harmful than poverty in later childhood. The first 5 years of life are the most sensitive period for the damaging effects of economic deprivation. The study found that low family income is more associated with difficult circumstances in adulthood when it occurs before age 5 rather than later in childhood.
The researchers also focused much of their research on children of immigrants and found that first-generation immigrant teens had lower juvenile crime rates, better test scores and academic performance, and more positive attitudes compared to their U.S.-born peers.
The researchers added, however, that these "advantages" steadily decline in subsequent generations, a phenomenon called the "immigrant paradox." This means that children and grandchildren of immigrants will have health and behavioral problems unless the type of thinking and behavior of the individual is changed.
The researchers found that rich people tended to avoid expensive loans, but poor participants were quicker to take out a loan, borrowed too much, finished the study more quickly, and ended up leaving the lab with less money when the experiment was completed. Such behavior is often attributed to a lack of control. Researchers noted that policies and services aimed at helping the poor should consider the impact of poverty on a person's cognitive function. This could include simplifying typically complex job applications and other forms of social interaction.
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