Sunday, September 01, 2013

Does a lack of money make you less intelligent? Financial worries reduce measured IQ (problem-solving ability)

This story has been getting a lot of press  -- mainly because there is very little that has any permanent impact on the IQ you are born with.  The point to note however is that the effect below is temporary, and the direction is down, not up.

It is precisely because psychologists have long been aware of the potential negative effect of extraneous factors on test performance that they do their best to exclude all distractions during test-taking, with testing normally being done under formal examination conditions. So the authors below have to a degree rediscovered the wheel.  That any task will be performed poorly if your mind is elsewhere is no surprise.

The interesting finding, though, is that money worries have a negative  effect only when they are very salient.  Test performance is not affected under normal conditions where such matters are in the background.  

That does confirm something I have myself noticed in many years of observing poor people:  They worry too little.  Their poor circumstances rarely seem to motivate them to efforts at bettering those circumstances.  They tend to be happy living from day to day.  They  often seem happier than many middle-class people.  That they have nothing in the bank is just accepted as normal and of no real concern.

The superficial message in the article is that giving the poor more money will make them smarter but there is no evidence for that and the findings actually contradict it.  What is in fact shown is that the problem solving ability of the poor is temporarily reduced when they are preoccupied by other things:   Quite unsurprising.  It has no implications for their basic underlying problem-solving abilities.

In normal IQ testing, the tester makes every effort NOT to  distract the testees, unlike the deliberately distracting procedure reported below.

The journal article is Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function

The size of your pay packet dictates more than just your holiday choice or the size of your car - it also influences your intelligence.  Financial worries tax the brain of those on low incomes, reducing their IQ by up to 13 points, scientists have found.

As a result, those with limited means are more likely to make bad decisions, such as taking on too much debt, which perpetuate their financial woes.

But researchers discovered when low-income individuals had their financial burdens removed, their intelligence returned to the same levels as higher earners.  The findings suggests that far from low intellect resulting in reduced pay, it is our financial woes that render us less clever.

‘Our results suggest that when you’re poor, money is not the only thing in short supply. Cognitive capacity is also stretched thin,’ said Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan.

‘That’s not to say that poor people are less intelligent than others. What we show is that the same person experiencing poverty suffers a cognitive deficit as opposed to when they’re not experiencing poverty.

‘It’s also wrong to suggest that someone’s cognitive capacity has gotten smaller because they’re poor. In fact, 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.’ He said individuals with financial worries are like a computer that has slowed down because it is carrying out more than one function.

‘It’s not that the computer is slow, it’s that it’s doing something else, so it seems slow to you. I think that’s the heart of what we’re trying to say,’ he added.

In the study, published in the journal Science, the team from US and British universities carried out a series of experiments in a US shopping mall.

Researchers selected 400 people at random and divided them into a ‘poor’ or ‘rich’ group based on their income, before subjecting them intelligence testing.

Prior to the experiment, half of the participants were asked to think about how they would pay for $1,500 of urgent repairs on their car if it had broken down. The aim was to get participants to focus on their own financial worries.

The study found poor participants performed much worse in the IQ test if they first considered their economic circumstances, but the better off were unaffected.

However, the group that was not primed to think about their finances scored similarly in the intelligence tests irrespective of their income.

‘For the poor, because these monetary concerns are just below the surface, the question brings them to the top,’ said Professor Mullainathan. ‘The result was, for that group, the gap between the rich and the poor goes up, in both IQ and impulse control. There was no gap in the other group, but ask them anything that makes them think about money and you see this result.’

In a second set of tests, the scientists travelled to rural India, where sugar cane farmers are paid the majority of their income once a year.

They found they performed significantly better at intelligence tests in the month after being paid - the equivalent of 10 IQ points - than just before, when their savings had dwindled.

‘The month after the harvest, they’re pretty rich, but the month before - when the money has run out - they’re pretty poor,’ Professor Mullainathan said. ‘What we did is look at the same people the month before and the month after the harvest, and what we see is that IQ goes up, cognitive control, or errors, goes way down, and response times go way down.’



France's second Dreyfus case

Moral corruption runs deep in France

The supposed death of 12 year old Mohammed Al Dura on September 30, 2000, captured in the famous video that showed him clinging to his father in terror at the Netzarim junction in the Gaza Strip as Israeli soldiers shot them both, has become the enduring image of the Second Intifada launched by Arafat--which was in part justified by that image in the world's media.

First in line are the Arabs who staged the fake atrocity and the Arab cameraman working for France 2 who took  the video and vouched for its accuracy.   It's hard to get too worked up about them--this is what Arabs do.  It's up to those to whom they feed this material to be wary and if they are taken in,  to correct their mistake as soon as they discover it--and fire those who mislead them.

Much more serious is the behavior of Charles Enderlin, the "respected" journalist who was bureau chief for France 2 in Israel, and that of France 2 itself, one of the three stations constituting publicly owned France Television, meaning that the government bears ultimate responsibility for what it broadcasts.  Born in France, Enderlin moved to Israel at the age of 22, served in the Israeli army, later taking Israeli citizenship.  He is one of those quondam Israelis whose attachment to Israel is supposedly attested by the vigor of his criticism of it. (His 2003 book  Shattered Dreams blamed Israel for Oslo's failure.) Enderlin, who provided the dramatic narration for the video clip,  may have been initially taken in by his cameraman--Enderlin was in Ramallah, not on the scene--but soon enough had to realize he was dealing with phony footage and dug in, misrepresenting the footage and clinging to the story.

The struggle to bring out the truth has become identified with the name of Philippe Karsenty who has been engaged in a court battle over the story for the last nine years.  But it should be remembered that in 2005 Nidra Poller wrote an article about the case in Commentary which didn't even mention Karsenty, yet was already able to document major holes in the story. Poller herself had not then seen the France 2 cameraman's raw rushes, but she had seen the outtakes of Reuters and AP cameramen who had been filming at the same place at the same time.

But instead of acknowledging error, France 2 circled the wagons.  Indeed, in the name of "French honor," the entire French media and political establishment circled the wagons.  While the al Dura case is customarily referred to by its critics as a blood libel, the parallels to the Dreyfus case are equally compelling. Then it was French military honor, now French media honor that was at stake.  The parallel to the second trial of Dreyfus, five years after the first, is especially striking.  By that time it took the most determined willful blindness not to know that Dreyfus had been blamed for the crimes of Esterhazy, yet Dreyfus was again condemned.  This time, with Israel in the dock, French behavior is in some ways even worse.  At least in the Dreyfus case the French intellectual and political class split, with large numbers rallying around Dreyfus.  In the al Dura case, the establishment has rallied so solidly behind Enderlin that most of the small minority of Frenchmen well-informed enough to be familiar with the controversy relegate it to a few "nutcases."

The reaction to the 2008 court decision in Karsenty's favor is instructive.  The Paris Court of Appeal--which to France 2's dismay had demanded to see the  original raw footage--ruled  that Karsenty was within his rights to call the al Dura video a hoax, overturning a 2006 decision that had found him guilty of defaming the network and Enderlin.  The footage was key.  The only shot in it relating to the al Dura tale that had not been aired showed the boy, after being pronounced dead,  lifting his head, looking around, moving his leg and shielding his eyes from the sun.  Even without the footage, the video's absurdities were obvious--supposedly blasted with high velocity bullets, the bodies of father and son showed no trace of blood.  (It should be noted that the supposed "hard" evidence of al Dura's death, the body of a boy brought that day to Shifa Hospital in Gaza, was "soft" to put it mildly.  One doctor at the hospital said he was brought in at eleven in the morning, another at one in the afternoon.  The al Dura incident occurred at 3 p.m.  Moreover photos showed this was clearly a different boy.)

As for the French government, clearly to signify support for the al Dura story, in 2009 Minister of Foreign Affairs Bernard Kouchner awarded Enderlin France's highest award, the Legion of Honor.

The most recent court decision, earlier this year, has gone against Karsenty.  France 2 appealed the 2008 decision to the Supreme Court which ruled the Paris Court of Appeals should not have demanded to see the raw rushes.  To get at the truth was apparently not the sort of thing the Supreme Court thought a judge was supposed to do. Nor was truth a defense. The Supreme Court sent the case back to be heard by a new panel of judges where Karsenty (without benefit of the footage) would not only have to show Enderlin and France 2 had perpetrated fraud but also that he had the evidence to prove it when he first denounced the video (i.e. before he had seen the raw footage which made the fraud incontrovertible).  In the ensuing trial, the Avocate Generale, an independent figure in the French judicial system, reminded the judges that the truth of the al Dura story was not the issue.   Mr. Bumble's remark in Oliver Twist, "The law is a ass" is tailor made for French libel rules.  And indeed the new panel found Karsenty lacked sufficient evidence for his charge of fraud at the time he first made it and so was guilty of defamation.  The court fined him 8000 euros ($14,000).

No one reads the Paris court's (absurd) justification for its decision.  What matters is that France 2 and Enderlin can claim vindication since Karsenty was found guilty of defamation.  Karsenty plans to appeal, and the case can go on indefinitely, bouncing yo-yo like from court to court as did Jarndyce versus Jarndyce in Bleak House, a case that had gone on for so many generations Dickens tells us, that no man alive knew what it meant.




Wal-Mart to include same-sex partners in company benefits:  "Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) will now allow workers’ same-sex partners to participate in its company health benefits, bringing policies at the largest private employer in the U.S. in line with most of the nation’s top businesses. Full-time associates’ spouses and domestic partners will be eligible for coverage in medical, dental, vision, life, critical illness and accident plans, the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company said in a postcard to employees this week that was provided to Bloomberg."

Obama, the Great Defunder:  "Obama has announced that he will defund the entire government rather than sign a bill that does not contain funding for ObamaCare. Senator Harry Reid has said he will not let the U.S. Senate pass a continuing resolution that does not contain funding for the program that he rammed through despite the opposition of the majority of Americans."

Little to celebrate this Laborless Day: "5.3 million.  That is the net increase in population of those aged 16 to 64 from January 2009 to present -- data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics from the month of July. Guess how many of them found jobs. Go on. I dare you.  720,000.  The rest of them are not even in the labor force — that is, looking for work. Those not participating in the labor force aged 16 to 64 has increased by more than 5 million since Barack Obama took office."


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC,  AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

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