The Psychology of Resource Scarcity
Scarcity is an urgent and pervasive problem in the world: 1.2 billion people live without electricity, another 663 million lack access to clean water, and just over 10 per cent of the world’s population lives on less than $1.90 per day.
Even in developed countries, poverty rates range from 5 per cent to 27 per cent. In Canada alone, 4.8 million people live in poverty. In fact, 35,000 Canadians are homeless on any given night, resulting in large economic costs such as those involved in running shelters and providing social services and health care as well as correctional services.
But according to Dr. Jiaying Zhao, Canada Research Chair in Behavioural Sustainability, scarcity isn’t just a lack of resources—it also creates psychological demands on a person. Zhao’s research has shown that scarcity can hinder cognitive function and lead individuals to make decisions that worsen their condition.
Zhao and her research team are identifying how scarcity leads to neglect and what can be done to reduce the cognitive burden of poverty. They are also trying to determine what consequences arise from a scarcity of environmental resources, such as food or water, as well as how scarcity results in a failure to engage in environmental action.
Zhao’s research will not only further our understanding of scarcity and its effect on thinking and behaviour, but also provide insights into human behaviour and decision-making in general. More importantly, her research could lead to policy changes on social issues like poverty and sustainability.