explains why the poor in many countries have a
patchwork of financial instruments, with high
turnover across accounts. A scarcity mindset leads
people to choose the most locally convenient
response to pressing demands, leading to constant financial juggling (34).
Questions surrounding poverty are large.
Poverty has long occupied philosophers, social
scientists, and policy-makers. No experiment can
fully explain how poverty, and scarcity more
generally, guides behavior. But the hypotheses,
methods, and results above offer an approach to
unpacking this problem. This paradigm can shed
light on the cognitive consequences of poverty.
Future research might also suggest ways to alleviate the taxing cognitive consequences of having
too little. Finally, this approach can help us to
understand circumstances even broader than
poverty, because scarcity underlies problems
as dire as hunger and as mundane as busyness.
These problems have traditionally been studied
within their own limited domains. A more general study of scarcity can inform our understanding of many specific contexts at once. This may
be the key to a deeper appreciation of the vast
psychology that stems from having too little.
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Acknowledgments: Supported by NSF award 0933497 and by
the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. Data are
available at http://theslab.uchicago.edu/browse/scidata.
Materials and Methods
Tables S1 to S5
26 March 2012; accepted 13 September 2012