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Having Little, Having Less: Toward a Psychology of Low Socioeconomic Status

Funding body

British Academy


External Principal investigator: Jennifer Sheehy-Skeffington
Co-investigator: Michael Price
Co-investigator: Nicholas Pound
Co-investigator: Isabel Scott

Project description

The project posits that we can understand many decisions and behaviours observed in low income populations as stemming from cognitive and regulatory responses to cues concerning the power and resource distribution of the local environment. Foremost among the conditions cued are resource scarcity—having too little—and low relative social status—having less than others. This project employs novel experimental methods to investigate the mechanisms through which resource scarcity and low social status might lead to present-biased decisions in anyone put into such situations. Studied this way, behaviours that are often detrimental to one’s wellbeing in modern society can be understood as adaptive in the environment in which our social cognitive architecture evolved.

Impact statement 

A major aim of this project is to contribute to the development of evidence-based policy that will benefit both people living in conditions of low socioeconomic status and also society at large. To this end, the PI will leverage connections formed at the World Bank and UN Development Program to ensure that the implications of the project for international development policy are elaborated and applied. She will also utilise her links to charities and social welfare organisations (such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation) to ensure that project findings are disseminated to the population most affected by the phenomena uncovered: those in the lowest socioeconomic groups in the UK.