CE28 - Cognition, éducation, formation

From money scarcity to income inequality: How poverty affects cognitive attention and decision-making – COGPOV

Submission summary

Ample research in social sciences and economics suggests that poverty is a phenomenon that tends to persist and reproduce itself (i.e., the "vicious circle of poverty"). Whereas social sciences have focused on the structural and political dynamics subtending the vicious circle of poverty, research in behavioral economics and in psychology has rather focused on individuals’ behaviors that further perpetuate poverty. The COGPOV project aspires to connect the different research traditions around the issue of the circle of poverty. Combining insights from social and cognitive psychology as well as neurosciences and behavioral economics, COGPOV aims to shed light on the cognitive burden that poverty imposes and that may chronically impair individuals' attention and decision-making. Organized along 3 work packages and with a total of 10 quantitative studies (correlational and experimental), the project articulates multi-level phenomena and mechanisms, from the structural to the psychological levels (even the brain level). More precisely, COGPOV aims to examine how structural aspects such as the level of income inequality in one given society influences the psychological experience of poverty thereby determining economically vulnerable individuals' behaviors and decision-making. In most industrialized countries, the persistence of poverty is accompanied by rising levels of income inequality (according to the World Economic Forum Global Risks Report, 2019). The first WP of the project seeks to understand how the level of income inequality modulates the psychological experience of poverty and disrupts individuals' cognitive functioning. Thanks to lab tasks traditionally used in psychological research, 3 studies will test the hypothesis that being (or feeling) poor represents an obstacle to intellectual performance and all the more so in a context of high-income inequality. Moreover and in order to better apprehend the psychological experience of poverty, we will develop and validate a new psychometric measure, the "Perceived Economic Scarcity" scale (1 study). The second WP of the project will provide a thorough examination of the cognitive processes, especially attention ones, impacted by the experience of economic scarcity and by the perception of high-income inequality in the society. Three studies will test this hypothesis that feeling poor in a society heavily marked by income inequality triggers anxious thoughts that partly capture individuals' attention. As a consequence, less attention resource can be devoted to ongoing tasks, which yet require high concentration, resulting in performance decrements. One study will have recourse to EEG recordings in order to provide a clearer picture of the presence of interfering thoughts among participants placed in experimental conditions of high-income inequality. Finally, the third WP will aim to extend the obtained findings from the two first WPs to the issue of suboptimal decision-making. Three studies will test the idea that the cognitive (WP1) and attentional (WP2) impairments have repercussions on individuals' decision-making processes. Taken together, the COGPOV project's 10 studies have the potential to provide a more integrated view of the psychological phenomena at play in poverty reproduction by showing how structural factors may hinder the cognitive functioning of the most economically vulnerable individuals, thereby contributing to the emergence of behaviors that further aggravate poverty.

Project coordinator


The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.



Help of the ANR 172,357 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: February 2021 - 42 Months

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