Rich Brain, Poor Brain
|October 25, 2013||Posted by Staff under Health|
This 2013 excerpt is from the Los Angeles Times, October 18, by Robert M. Sapolsky.
Many factors favor the rich getting richer while the poor stagnate. The wealthy benefit from economies of scale, as the best prices and lowest interest rates are more readily available to those who least need them. The poor are perpetually in reactive mode, lurching from one crisis to another. The wealthy, on the other hand, can act proactively, spending smaller sums in advance to prevent costly crises later. And, of course, the U.S. taxation system makes it possible, as Warren Buffett has decried, for America’s wealthiest investors to pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries.
But there has always been an additional factor in the mix. Study after study has suggested that poor people are more likely than wealthy people to behave in ways that are imprudent and counterproductive. An extensive literature search shows that lower socioeconomic status is associated with a range of self-defeating behaviors, including more risk-taking (not using seat belts, for example), worse adherence to protocols (such as failing to complete a full course of a medicine) and poorer financial management (impulse buying, for example, or buying on credit, which adds considerably to an item’s cost).
Why is this? One obvious explanation might be that those cognitive traits are what gave rise to poverty in the first place. But a recent paper in the prestigious journal Science suggests a novel contributor to this phenomenon.
The brain’s frontal cortex has a finite capacity. Extensive research shows that “frontal function” is impaired in people who increase their cognitive load with things such as distracting tasks, stress, sleep deprivation, pain or even resisting temptation (for example, if you make someone’s frontal cortex work hard in order for them to resist eating chocolate, they are less capable immediately afterward of performing frontal cognitive tasks). Poor people, in general, have a greater cognitive load than rich people. Having to reflect on tight finances increased cognitive load for poor people.