Friday, November 10, 2006

For about 1/2 a year now, I've been spending one night a week helping a kid study math for his GED through ProjectPLUS. This kid I'm helping is not really a kid. He is in his mid 20s. He spent a good deal of his teens and early 20s in prison--hence no highschool diploma. Now he is receiving Social Security and trying to get his GED so he can start at Community College.

After we wrapped up last night he showed me his PSP, which he was very proud of. I was little taken aback that he had this $200+ piece of technology when he makes so little money. Last week he couldn't meet with me because he didn't have the money for a bus pass. And here he is walking around with a PSP. It was hard for me to understand when I don't have a PSP or a regular play station and make a lot more money than he does.

Dave Munger over at Cognitive Daily, posted something that made me rethink my reaction.

When you're out of work, or you're so poor that you don't have enough money for basic necessities of life, one of the most devastating effects isn't so much physical discomfort, it's mental anguish.

That's why identifying the particular traits that lead to or alleviate the debilitating mental problems stemming from poverty is so important. BPS Research Digest discusses a recent study led by Johnny Wen which found a fascinating result:
Seventy-three participants were recruited from an outpatient medical centre - most were of low socioeconomic status, 89 per cent were out of work, and many were suffering from psychological or medical problems (patients with dementia or a profoundly low IQ had been omitted). Participants completed a raft of neuropsychological tests and then answered questions about their attitudes to work and their beliefs in their work skills.
Of all the mental faculties tested, it was only the participants' performance on tests of visual skill that was consistently related to their overall belief in their work ability. That is, the better a participant's visual skills, the more confident they were likely to be in their ability to work. Visual skills were tested by asking participants to re-draw a complex figure, or to re-create a figure using blocks.

Now this study offers only a correlation, but it does raise the intriguing possibility that improving visual skills can improve confidence in the ability to do work, which may be the first step in helping impoverished people improve their life situations.

This information makes his spending choices more understandable. Sure, maybe he could have spent his money wiser. Maybe he doesn't need to play video games to exercise his visual skills. Maybe drawing or painting would be cheaper and better for him. But, really, who am I to say? This kid has so much going against him.

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