Study: Worrying About Money Lowers Your IQ

New research looks at why money problems are bad for more than just your wallet

Talk about adding insult to injury: A new study published in Science magazine claims that money woes don’t just impact your stress levels, it also decreases your intelligence.

The study chose 400 people at random and placed them into either a “poor” or “rich” group based on their income. Half of the participants were then asked to consider how they would pay for $1,500 of car repairs if their car were to break down. (Aren’t you getting stressed just reading this?) The participants then took IQ tests, half of them with financial worries fresh in their minds.

The study found that the poor participants who were preoccupied with money problems scored much lower on the IQ test than the rich participants who were asked the same question. However, the other half of the participants, who weren’t reminded of their financial situation prior to testing, scored similarly on the IQ test, regardless of their “rich” or “poor” status.

As Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan told the Daily Mail, “What happens is that your effective capacity gets smaller, because you have all these other things on your mind, you have less mind to give to everything else.” In other words, it’s not that low-income people are necessarily less intelligent, it’s simply that their cognitive capacity is being spread too thin.

In another set of tests that confirm Mullainathan’s explanation, scientists studied the IQs of sugar cane farmers in rural India who are paid once a year. They found that in the month after being paid the farmers tested about 10 IQ points higher than the month before being paid, when they had the least amount of savings and the greatest financial worries.

So, the next time you consider charging that I-so-need-this-it’s-going-to-make-me-die-with-happiness jacket, just remember that your IQ might drop a few points when it’s time to pay the bill.

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