Psychological Theories of Poverty

The following sample essay on Psychological theories of povertyAccording to the theory of resilience, a protective factor can function in one of four ways: by reducing the impact of a risk, by reducing a negative chain reaction that might have represented a risk, by developing a person’s self-esteem, or by creating opportunities through social reform. It is not surprising that resilience theory is the most recent psychological theory to emerge, given psychology’s own self-criticism for having been previously too disapproving of the inborn abilities of the poor.

The theoretical map found in Figure 1 clarifies the major concepts covered by this report. The map is divided into two components; The top half represents psychological theories of poverty that focus only on human behavior and the bottom half contains theories of poverty that states the social environment. The theories on the “causes” of poverty that focus on the individual include such personal failings as: inferior genes, the absence of a NACH, inherent mental illness, sinister morals, and/or internal ego/superego conflict stemming from an unhealthy childhood.

These theories focused primarily on internal deficiencies, whereas individuals bring poverty upon themselves and contribute to their own mental illness.

Such theories focus on both the behavioral effects of poverty (mental illness, consumerism syndrome, or resilience) as well as the environmental effects (a loss of culture, low-paying jobs, a risk-filled environment, and discrimination).

One of the consequences for understanding human behavior and the social environment is to recognize the historical course through the development of psychological theories and the recent efforts to balance the impact of social forces with the resistant behaviors of poor people.

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Additional research is needed in order to understand the relations between individuals and their social environment, and how this interaction is exacerbated by the condition of poverty. It is equally important to gain a more in-depth understanding of how psychological theories were used to explain poverty and thereby “blame the victim” while overlooking the impact of the social environment, which has been and will be the primary arena for reducing poverty.

Psychological Consequences of Poverty

Poverty remains one of the most persistent problems facing the world, there are some evidence that may have certain psychological consequences that can lead to economic behaviors that make it difficult to escape poverty. The evidence shows that poverty causes stress and negative affective states which in turn may lead to short sighted and risk opposed decision making.

One of the possible impacts of poverty is the dominance and incidence of psychological disorders. Many studies have shown that depression, alcoholism, and anti-social personality disorder are common in urban stricken neighborhoods than in more wealthy communities.

“Poverty is the absence of something needed. It is not a physical condition but a mental condition.”

When people in a lower-class lifestyle have a hard time dealing with the stress. Every year approximately one million suicides occur worldwide. Those in poverty undergo more cases of abuse from the public and domestic then the upper class. They have a hard time getting access to appropriate health care and food to support themselves and their family. Poor individual tends to isolate themselves which can cause upsetting mood changes.

Many research showed that family income below poverty level associated with higher level of

  • Development disability
  • Learning disability
  • Intellectual disability
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Somatic complaints
  • Thought problems

Poverty is a physical and psychological condition not just an economic one. Poverty creates a “mindset of scarcity” as behavioral economists Sendhil mallinathan termed it.

The Neurological Effect of Poverty

It is scientifically proved that poverty reduce the size of human brain. The limited brain power caused by poverty is likely to create a series of problems in handling everyday tasks. Poverty may affect things like-

  •  Awareness
  •  Decision making
  •  Memory
  •  Focus
  •  Stressed to death
  •  Attention problems
  •  Anxiety. And some chronic effect like
  •  Mental deprivation during pregnancy
  •  Nutritional deprivation during childhood development
  •  Noise and housing problem.
  •  Diminished cognitive enrichment

A recent study that looked at children in Romania who were transferred from orphanages to foster care. The brains of children in the orphanage were damaged but these changes can be partially reversed with quality faster care. Study done by Dr. Dubrin (teaches applied ethics at Hofstra University)

Another study said that children who grow up poor have lesser amount of gray matter in their frontal and parietal lobes. Poverty also affect the size of their hippocampus and parts of brain responsible for memory, learning and processing social and emotional information.

Poor children experience high level of stress because amongst other reasons, they live in violent neighborhood, walk across many busy traffic intersections.

A historic example of this claim given by Robert Sapolsky, a leading researcher from Stamford demonstrates that – for many years, children’s thymus glands were radiated to prevent SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) ant causing thyroid cancer)

Effect of poverty on behavior and academic performance of children

Environmental, psychological and physical factors exceptionally influence the academic career of poor children raised in poverty are faced daily with overwhelming challenges that well-off children never have to face; and their brains have adapted to sub optimal conditions in ways that undermine school performance.

Deprivation and Poverty

Deprivation can be defined as the result of a lack of income and other resources, which aggregately can be seen as living in poverty. The relative deprivation approach to poverty observes the indicators of deprivation, these can then be related back to income levels and resources.

By deprivation, many means poverty which is not an easy term to measure. Poverty impacts on families, children and the whole of society and its consequences are far-reaching: creating problems of social isolation, low educational attainment, unemployment, affecting mental and physical health and social interaction. It can be both relative (for example someone may be living in overcrowded place, whereas someone else may be homeless) and subjective, as individuals we will place different priorities to various factors in our lives.

According to Tripathi (1982) there are different types of deprivation on account of different criteria such as social, economic, political, educational, environmental etc. apart from various need deprivation such as food, water, sleep, sex etc. Such criteria is done under the headings-

  • (a) Organismic vs. Environmental
  • (b) Objective vs. Subjective
  • (c) Absolute vs. Relative.
  1. Organismic vs. Environmental: It is said that deprivation is the assets of either organism or environment. When an individual lacks fulfillment of needs such as food, water, sleep, sex etc., he feels organismic deprivation. Remaining deprivations may be identified as environmental. For example, there exist some differences in economic condition and educational status etc., between the residents of rural and urban areas, slum and non-slum areas. Residents of rural areas or slum dwellers are deprived of the environment enjoyed by the citizens of urban areas or non-slum residents and this is termed as environmental deprivation.
  2. Objective vs. Subjective: Objective deprivation creates a basic need in individual’s mind which is required to satisfy the psychological functioning. The difference between objective and subjective deprivation is very slight. In the subjective deprivation the particular individual will have to know his wants and if he is not satisfied with these, he will feel deprived.
  3. absolute vs. Relative: When the primary needs are not satisfied one can feel absolute deprivation. Relative deprivation is something opposite to absolute deprivation i.e., deprivation of all the secondary needs fall under this category.

Effects of deprivation:

As deprivation varies in nature it is but natural to investigate about the traits that are affected by different types of deprivation. A study found that Das (1973) has suggested that intellectual sub-normality grows in children due to cultural deprivation. Rath (1975) has given three main effects of deprivation;

  1.  In deprived children’s intellectual functioning will be hampered,
  2.  Academic achievement will be hampered and
  3.  Drop-out rate will be enhanced among students before a certain stage.

According to Miller (1970) deprivation includes economic condition, court intervention, and negative parental approach to the child, inadequate and overcrowded housing, malnutrition, low parental education, poor household management and social deprivation.

It is obvious from the effects of different types of deprivation that a great deal of emphasis should be assigned on socio-economic deprivation for understanding and for predicting many aspects of an individual’s life. In many widespread studies involving after effects of socio-economic deprivation, it has been seen that when there are incidences of loss of privileges, opportunities and basic needs, there is impediment in the growth of cognition, intelligence and achievement. Considering the importance of socio-economic deprivation it is thought desirable to study it in detail.


Only a small number of scholars have suggested over the centuries that the lives of the poor may be characterized not only by material deprivation, but also negative psychological outcomes. In this report, we have tried to map the broad field of psychology and behavioral economics as it applies to the measurement, understanding and policy prescriptions for poverty analysis. This also examines the theories of both the causes and impacts of poverty emerging from the field of psychology.

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Psychological Theories of Poverty. (2019, Nov 18). Retrieved from

Psychological Theories of Poverty
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