Thursday, September 12, 2013
I've seen an interesting kind of analysis pop up in a couple of different
places. I'd call it "effective stupidity". The idea is that certain situations
can cause people to allocate part of their finite amount of attention on
distractions, rather than on solving bigger problems. One such situation is
"Urban Wonk" Emily Badger explains this at the Atlantic:
This understanding of the brain's bandwidth could fundamentally change the way we think about poverty. Researchers publishing some groundbreaking findings today in the journal Science have concluded that poverty imposes such a massive cognitive load on the poor that they have little bandwidth left over to do many of the things that might lift them out of poverty - like go to night school, or search for a new job, or even remember to pay bills on time. [links in original]In one experiment, researchers found that priming people to think about financial problems was the functional equivalent of losing a night's sleep -- or 13 IQ points.
Blogger Chris Yeh cites other work that generalizes this:
[S]hortages lead people to make poor decisions. That's because the brain can only process so much.I wouldn't say that all shortages do this, or phrase the effect quite so deterministically, but I think it's a good point. Yeh also notes that what I am calling "effective stupidity" pops up among middle-class professionals who do not set scheduling priorities well, and suffer what amounts to a time shortage as a result.
It is interesting to consider how a problem like poverty or overscheduling can mushroom well beyond having too little money or feeling like one has too little time.