Date of Graduation

Spring 5-22-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in International and Development Economics (MSIDEC)


College of Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Yaniv Stopnitzky


Does the feeling of scarcity really impede cognitive function? Using experimental evidence from Tanzanian fishers, this study examines the connection between poverty and cognitive function. Fishers in the experiment are tested on how exposure to a ‘scarcity trigger’ impacts cognition and productivity through measuring performance on problem solving tasks. The study also creates an index of distractions to test how existing problems in an individual’s life, which contribute to limited attention, relates to cognitive function and productivity. Experimental results do not find that mental and financial scarcities significantly impact test performance. Although the study finds no significant causal evidence, this paper goes into an in-depth review of similar experiments and shows with more statistical power the study would yield effect sizes similar to those found in existing literature. Results do suggest that scarcities may hinder problem-solving abilities; therefore, poverty alleviation programs should be designed to consider the potential cognitive impacts of scarcity.