Ep211: Combatting Poverty with Neuroscience, not Financial Literacy, with Emily Heath


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If we see poverty as the result of financial illiteracy, irresponsibility or a lack of self-control, then the blame falls on the person living in poverty, and the answer is to find a job, spend less, and get financial training.

Financial literacy education is definitely important, and these programs have their benefits. But knowledge alone does not develop capability and behaviour change, any more than knowing you should exercise leads to going to the gym.

So why do the majority of financial interventions fail? To understand that, we’re Changing Lenses to see through the eyes of people experiencing financial vulnerability. Dr. Emily Heath, a senior researcher and behavioural neuroscientist, explains the cognitive biases and psychology behind financial decision-making. As we learn about the barriers to healthy financial behaviour, we also learn how racism, discrimination and other forms of oppression exacerbate the problem.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • The cognitive biases that derail our best intentions for saving money
  • Why low-income kids do worse in the “marshmallow test”
  • How poverty is a tax on decision-making
  • The effect of traumatic events like racism and domestic violence on financial capability
  • What neuroscience tells us will actually help people facing financial vulnerability

[Please pardon the poor audio quality due to internet recording.]
Full transcript available here.
Contact Rosie and find JEDI resources at: https://www.changinglenses.ca/


Dr. Emily Heath is a senior researcher, consultant and behaviour change specialist with a PhD in behavioural neuroscience from the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre. Emily has been the architect of award-winning financial capability programs, which she has developed for both youth and adults. She is the author of the international report, “How do we really build financial capability? 10 Principles for financial interventions”.

Emily is currently a Senior Manager, Climate Change and Sustainability Services with EY Australia, and sits on the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) Schools and Money Working Group.

You can find Emily on LinkedIn.

References and resources in this episode:

Article on Professor Sendhil Mullainathan’s research: https://www.harvardmagazine.com/2015/05/the-science-of-scarcity




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