Cut your brain some slack

Cut your brain some slack

Much has been said about the poor in Singapore in the past few weeks.

Among other things, the Government has decided against drawing a line between the destitute and others who barely get by. Late last month, Caritas, which is the social arm of the Catholic Church, launched a movement to help the poor called Singaporeans Against Poverty.

Meanwhile, the Lien Centre for Social Innovation is publishing a paper this month recommending that poverty be officially defined and measured.

Now, a just-released book by poverty scholars Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir will deepen that woe of want because they suggest that being poor blunts the brain and weakens will power.

Mullainathan is a behavioural economist, or one who studies how people make decisions. He is also among the few thinkers today who are trying to overturn the traditional assumption in economics that people behave rationally when they handle money.

Shafir, his collaborator of many years, is professor of psychology and public policy at Princeton University, and advises the Obama administration on how to help the needy in America manage their money better.

The two define scarcity as not having enough of what you need - be it money, time or friends.

Scarcity is pernicious, they say, because their tests have shown that when a person lacks what he or she needs most, the person winds up focusing so much on that lack that he or she becomes tunnel-minded.

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