Emily Murphy led a works-in-progress investigating how neuroscience can reframe approaches to poverty policy. She began with the claim that current policy/poverty mechanisms embody political assumptions about who is deserving of certain benefits and who is not. For example, bureaucratic disentitlement can often involve multiple steps and may be intentionally complicated to filter applicants based on those who are most motivated to go through the trouble to apply and are then presumed to be most deserving of the benefits. However, making deliberately inconvenient policies as a distributive mechanism ignores scientific evidence suggesting that poverty can itself undermine brain health and cognition. Thus, policies that impose high cognitive and effort demands as part of their design may be regarded as discriminatory.
Our discussion considered the role of scientific evidence in policy depates. We also considered potential implications of reframing poverty policy in terms of brain science. Could, e.g., such work promote a sort of determinism to socioeconomic status; that poor people are somehow pre-determined to remain poor? Or might research supporting the claim that poverty causes cognitive deficits be interpreted to mean that economic disadvantage is a form of cognitive disability? Such arguments could have broader implications beyond neuroscience and poverty policy, then involving quesions realted to stigmatization and the appropriation of claims made regarding the rights of disabled people.