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Stress

The Things We Do: Bandwidth Poverty- When our Minds Betray Us

Roxanne Bauer's picture

Struggling to ‘get by’ is stressful.  We worry whether we can make it to our next paycheck, whether a trip to the market will be successful, whether we can pay the rent on-time… the list goes on.

All of this stress leads to an attention shortage, known as bandwidth poverty.  Bandwidth poverty creates a negative, reinforcing cycle.  When we experience financial poverty, we focus on the immediate need to make money or to pay a bill, and we don’t have sufficient cognitive resources or bandwidth to spend on other tasks or later deadlines. This leads to less-than-optimal decisions that leave us worse-off because we’ve lost the capacity or mental space to consider future needs.

In a series of experiments, researchers from Harvard, Princeton and Britain's University of Warwick found that urgent financial worries had an immediate impact on poor people's ability to perform well in tests of cognition and logic.

The researchers conducted two sets of experiments— in two very different settings— one in a mall in suburban New Jersey and one involving sugar cane farmers in rural India.
 

Trauma and Psychosocial Well-being: Is it our Business?

Alys Willman's picture

Here is a situation that’s happened to me; maybe it’s happened to you, too. You’re on mission, finishing up a meeting.  You’re closing your notebook, your head’s in the next meeting already, and one of the people you’ve just met with asks if you have a second.

Before you can react, she’s telling you her story. It’s a very difficult story, full of experiences you can’t imagine living through yourself. She seems to have gone back into the story in her mind – her eyes are focused beyond you, her hands tremble, and her eyes water.

Assuming you are not a trained social worker, it’s likely you have few skills you can immediately draw on to help her. And you wonder how many others like her are facing similar circumstances. 

What does any of this have to do with our business? Our work brings us into contact with people and groups that have experienced extremely stressful events and situations – from grinding poverty, to forced displacement, war and natural disasters. We come into contact with some of the most wounded and most resilient people in the world. While that strength helps them survive in the face of huge challenges, these “invisible wounds” – if not addressed – take a huge toll on them and their loved ones.