Poverty Status in Childhood Can Affect Impulsiveness and Decision Making Later in Life

Growing up poor can influence a person’s sense of control and result in decision making that is impulsive, as well as tendencies to give up on certain tasks or decisions that require more measured thought, according to researchers at the University of Minnesota.

“We found that adults who grew up poor were more inclined to consider difficult and uncertain living conditions as beyond their control, while those from affluent backgrounds found them to be within their control. This leads to different reactions to the same situation,” said Chiraag Mittal, MS, the lead author of the study.

The researchers conducted several controlled experiments with participants generally in their 20s and 30s from a broad spectrum of socioeconomic backgrounds. In one experiment, 73 college participants were asked to recall feeling uncertain about their finances and then asked to solve an unsolvable puzzle. Those who came from poorer backgrounds gave up trying to solve the puzzle 25 percent sooner than those from wealthier backgrounds. But when students from both low and high income backgrounds were asked to describe a recent ordinary purchase and then asked to work on the puzzle, both groups spent the same amount of time, on average, trying to solve the puzzle.

“Persistence is directly tied to myriad important outcomes, including self-control, academic achievement, substance abuse, criminal behavior, healthy eating and overspending,” said Vladas Griskevicius, Ph.D., a researchers at the University of Minnesota and a co-author of the study. “Future research should investigate strategies to prevent individuals from poor childhoods from potentially quitting challenging tasks in the face of adversity.”

The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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