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How Stress Affects Mental Bandwidth



From VOA Learning English, this is the Economics Report.

New research shows how a lack of money, food or even time can affect decision making and the ability to act. In the book, "Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much," Professors Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir examine the mental stress of dealing with a lack of something necessary. Sendhil Mullainathan is an economist. He teaches at Harvard University in Massachusetts.

Eldar Shafir teaches psychology at Princeton University in New Jersey. Their research combined theories from economics and psychology to explain behaviors. The two borrowed a word from digital technology to describe how thinking is harmed by scarcity. They use the word, "bandwidth" to describe the ability of the mind to remember and plan. They say mental bandwidth decreases when people have too little. When mental energy is divided between worry and planning, planning is affected. One experiment in India tested the intelligence of farmers before and after the yearly harvest.

Farmers scored higher after they had sold their crops. Worry over the lack of money before the harvest had temporarily decreased their intelligence. The two men experienced their own decreased bandwidth. They found that a lack of enough time affected their performance in all parts of their lives. Sendil Mullainathan was chosen for a MacArthur Genius Award, yet he says he found himself missing meetings, not answering e-mails and forgetting to call his mother. Eldar Shafir says the research is meaningful for public policy. He says the condition of being poor or hungry or even too busy restricts the ability to think and act to make things better.

For VOA Learning English, I'm Alex Villarreal.

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