Marshmallow-ology: Why Wait, When the Better Treat Might Never Arrive? Will economic uncertainty make the task of upbringing children in the family save more — or spend more? The answer may depend on your childhood experience, a new study suggests. The research, published in Psychological Science could help explain why poverty can sometimes be so difficult to escape.
In two different experiments, researchers led by Vladas Griskevicius of the University of Minnesota studied people who had been raised either in relative financial comfort in middle or upper class households or had had some childhood experience with poverty. Another task involved choosing between a guaranteed reward of small amounts of cash or gambling on getting larger, but uncertain monetary rewards later. People who had viewed the nature scenes— no matter what their background— tended to choose later, larger rewards and make safe choices rather than gambling. But among those who had first viewed recession images, the wealthier and poorer participants made diverging choices: the better-off participants increased their tendency to go for long term over short term gain, while the poorer ones chose more immediate rewards and made more risky gambles. It detailed a tale of someone’s lengthy search for lost keys. Participants then performed a task designed to measure the appeal of certain branded luxury items such as Rolex watches, Gucci clothing or accessories, or Porsches.
The volunteers were shown images of these items, and had to move a lever that would simulate either approaching the object or avoiding it as quickly as possible. Again, only the people who had seen the economically troubling article showed differences related to their upbringing. Those who had grown up comfortably were slower to approach the luxury goods after being cued to consider the bad economy, while those who had experienced poverty were faster to move towards them. What could explain how childhood poverty leads people to risk resources and settle for short term gain when it seems more logical to act cautiously with money? The researchers suggest that while this type of action seems foolish economically, it may reflect a deeper evolutionary survival strategy. In biology, focusing on short term gains can be the key to survival under conditions of scarcity. Previous studies have shown that when facing an uncertain environment where the risk of early death is high, organisms ranging from rats to humans tend to mature earlier sexually, reproduce at a younger age and even show signs of aging more rapidly.
Studies involving human subjects also support the role of uncertainty in changing risk calculations. While the implications on financial decisions may not seem as profound as those for evolutionary development, the scientists say their results may lead to deeper understanding of why people seem to get caught in a cycle of poverty. If those who have experienced social hardships are more inclined to take bigger economic gambles, then an environment in which financial organizations are ever-ready with loans, at high interest rates, can prove ruinous for the borrowers in the long run. Maia Szalavitz is a neuroscience journalist for TIME. Szalavitz’s latest book is Born for Love: Why Empathy Is Essential — and Endangered. Bruce Perry, a leading expert in the neuroscience of child trauma and recovery.
Child care, child minding, or daycare is the caring for and supervision of a child or children, usually ranging from age six weeks to age thirteen. Child care is the action or skill of looking after children by a day-care center, nannies, babysitter, teachers or other providers. Usually children are taken care of by their parents, legal guardians or siblings. Cross-culturally, children caring for children is very common. This informal care includes verbal direction and other explicit training regarding the child’s behavior, and is often as simple as “keeping an eye out” for younger siblings.