Poverty of Content

pile-of-puzzle-piecesPoverty of content is a speech problem wherein a person talks a lot but does not say anything substantive, or says much more than is necessary to convey a message. For example, when a person answers the question, “What color is the couch?” with a five-minute monologue about colors and couches instead of simply answering the question, he/she may be exhibiting poverty of content. The speech is understandable and grammatically correct, but does not convey meaningful information.

Causes of Poverty of Content
Most people exhibit poverty of content from time to time, particularly when they are nervous or do not know how to answer a question. A classic example of this is a teenager who talks around the question, “Where were you last night?” The teenager might provide a host of irrelevant information to distract from the issue at hand, or might be so nervous that he or she is unable to coherently answer the question.

However, poverty of content can also be symptomatic of an underlying mental health syndrome. People with severe anxiety, intellectual disabilities, and/or schizophrenia may all regularly exhibit poverty of content. Poverty of content is also common among people with autism, particularly when they are asked questions regarding emotions and other people’s states of mind.

Treatment for Poverty of Content
Because most people periodically exhibit poverty of content, it does not always warrant treatment. However, in therapy poverty of content may be a clue to an underlying mental health condition, and may also help therapists identify topics that are particularly stressful for their clients. When poverty of content is symptomatic of an underlying mental health condition, the underlying condition would be the focus of therapy. In particular, occupational therapy is helpful for people with autism, developmental delays, and intellectual disabilities, and people with speech disorders often benefit from the help of a speech pathologist.


  1. Colman, A. M. (2006). Oxford dictionary of psychology. New York, NY: Oxford UniversityPress.
  2. Schizophreniform disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.minddisorders.com/Py-Z/Schizophreniform-disorder.html

Last Updated: 08-18-2015

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