Have you ever taken on additional shifts at work for some extra cash and then failed an exam because you didn’t study enough? Bought a phone for $0 to save money then only to end up stuck in a three-year contract? Signed up for a high-interest credit card without really reading the fine print because it meant immediate access to funds?

This may be how are brains are wired to operate, according to researchers who have been studying the cognitive mechanisms behind scarcity. They say when we’re under financial stress and focused on solving a problem related to money, our brains tend to tune out other information and hinder our ability to do unrelated tasks. And it may explain why some people who are living in poverty can’t seem to get themselves out of it.