Bandwidth (It’s Not Just for Internet)

Have you ever looked at a poor person and judged their situation based only on what you could see? Most of us have. Maybe their clothing is unkempt or they used food stamps in the grocery store, live in a rundown neighborhood, drive a car that doesn’t seem like it’s going to last another day or maybe they’re standing on the side of the road with a sign that ultimately asks for something. Maybe you assumed it was due to laziness or poor life choices. Did you know that there are things that negatively impact the minds of people in ways that don’t necessarily manifest in others in the same manner? Did you know, it’s been proven that your income affects your judgment and decision-making processes? Think about that!

The brain operates in two modes. The first is fast and effortless, it happens on it’s own. This would include actions such as standing up or breathing. The second mode is slower, requires more effort and is therefore more effective. This would include actions that you have to think about doing such as communicating or sprinting. The more jobs the brain is doing at one time, the less effectively it functions. One example most of us have experienced is driving with the radio on in an unfamiliar area and in order to figure it out, you turn the volume on the radio down. You don’t need your ears to read! The amount of conscious tasks your brain can manage at once is called its bandwidth. Similar to broadband bandwidth, there’s a set limit to its performance. Think of it as an 8 oz cup. You can safely pour into it until it contains 8 oz, anything more is going to spill over and make a mess.

Bandwidth consists of two components. One is cognitive capacity, which deals with things such as problem solving ability and logical reasoning. The other is executive control and deals with things such as controlling our actions and planning. When these components are being heavily used, it causes spillover in other cognitive areas. In other words, it increases the chances of bad choices being made. Again, studies have been conducted which prove that heavily taxed cognitive abilities decrease the ability to make good decisions. The mind is busy managing the more pressing issues.

The heavily taxed mind can also lead to other issues. If a person has a job that requires high amounts of cognitive function, performing at a decreased level of cognition could lead to poor decisions at work. We all know how this story can spiral out of control. It begins with one mistake and somewhere further down the road, the employee is making less money, getting passed up for promotions or potentially out of work.

Bandwidth is also affected by nutrition and alcohol, both things are frequently associated with poverty. Alcohol appears to be most easily accessible in lower income neighborhoods. You don’t have to drive down too many city blocks before you find an establishment that sells alcohol. Nutrition lowers bandwidth when there is a lack of nutrient dense food. Focus and output are decreased because a lot of bandwidth is dedicated to securing food or managing hunger pangs. Alcohol costs money and alters the way the brain functions. A lot of available bandwidth is dedicated to the effortless tasks such as standing or breathing; both require more conscious effort while consuming alcohol. A good example is preparing your child for the day. If you live in a neighborhood that has high crime rates, you will probably dedicate more time and resources to safety. It may be an alarm system, a dog or even constant conversations with your children about remaining safe within the neighborhood. That’s an additional stressor on the brain, which decreases bandwidth. The extra bandwidth that is concerned with ensuring safety is the bandwidth someone living in a relatively low crime neighborhood might use to focus on things like improving their child’s quality of life, or creating another stream of income.

Understanding how bandwidth works and effects different people in different ways may help create awareness of people you otherwise couldn’t relate to. It may even open your eyes to some realities our communities face daily and inspire you in ways you never would have imagined. It may even help you understand why you experience things the way that you do and help you better manage your own bandwidth so that you can use it more productively to improve your own life.

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