Money: An alternative to Advil?

A recent University study suggests that handling money can reduce various types of pain.

Maureen Landsverk

We are warned from childhood that money is the root of all evil, but a new University of Minnesota study may overturn this conclusion. Research by Kathleen Vohs, associate professor of marketing at Carlson School of Management, suggests cash can at least bring pain reduction. The study suggests that people who physically handle money are less susceptible to both physical and emotional pain. In the experiment, a control group was given plain paper to count, while a second group was handed a stack of paper money to rifle through. Shortly afterward, participants were asked to stick their hands into scalding hot water. Pain ratings from the cash counters were found to be radically lower than those of the control group. Interestingly, the subjects of VohsâÄô study did not have any expectation of keeping the money, so it could be assumed that the very presence of cash causes our pain threshold to increase. These results are congruent with the conclusion of an earlier study in which those who came into contact with money felt the sting of social rejection in a computer game simulation to a lesser extent than the control group. âÄúThese effects speak to the power of money, even as a symbol, to change perceptions of very real feelings,âÄù Vohs said. This realization introduces some troubling questions. Is this just another result of our ever-developing market economy, a world in which society has become increasingly dependent on material goods? Is our reliance on riches and the modern advances they impart an unhealthy alternative to social interaction? The influence a hint of affluence has on the human psyche is undeniable, but it may not be substantially life-altering. One issue that went unaddressed in VohsâÄô study was the duration of the effect. As it turns out, Forbes magazine published the outcomes of several applicable surveys. In one instance, lottery winners reported happiness levels equivalent to their original contentment just five years after winning. âÄúPeople want money more and are soothed by it when they are not experiencing deeper need satisfaction, but the satisfaction of money is superficial and is not enduring,âÄù said University of Rochester psychologist Edward Deci. This notion is called the Easterlin paradox, established in 1974 by University of Pennsylvania economist Richard Easterlin. The Easterlin study was founded on the idea that after basic needs are met, increased earnings do not have a profound effect on happiness. For example, those lifted from abject poverty by means of money would testify to a heightened contentment, while those on the rise from middle- to upper-class rank would not report as dramatic an emotional response. Recently, this concept has been challenged by two researchers at the University of Pennsylvania who point to 2008 Gallup Poll results as evidence. According to the poll, citizens residing in countries with a higher GDP per capita consistently report higher levels of life satisfaction. Of course, personal and national economic growth can be fulfilling for deeper reasons, and most have to do with witnessing the result of hard work and effort over time. So, money can reduce pain, but does money itself buy happiness? As long as studies are published by economists and psychologists alike, there will be conflicting opinions. It may put a smile on your face for a moment, but it certainly isnâÄôt a permanent mood boost. After taking into account all the research and reports, all the graphs and polls and surveys, the best insight may in fact come from the late Irish comedian Spike Milligan: âÄúMoney canâÄôt buy you happiness, but it does bring you a more pleasant form of misery.âÄù Sometimes, thatâÄôs all you can ask for. Maureen Landsverk welcomes comments at [email protected]