Dealing with poverty takes up so much mental energy that the poor have less brain power for making decisions and taking steps to overcome their financial difficulties, a study suggests.

The research, published Thursday in the journal Science, concludes that a person’s cognitive abilities can be diminished by such nagging concerns as hanging on to a place to live and having enough money to feed their families.

As a result, there is less “mental bandwidth” left over for education, training, time management and other steps that could help break the cycle of poverty, the researchers contend.

“Previous accounts of poverty have blamed the poor for their personal failings, or an environment that is not conducive to success,” said Jiaying Zhao of the University of British Columbia, who led the study, conducted while she was a graduate student at Princeton University.

“We’re arguing that being poor can impair cognitive functioning, which hinders individuals’ ability to make good decisions and can cause further poverty,” she said.