A recent article in Psychological Science suggests that greenbacks may be able to do a lot more than just buy things. According to the study’s authors, money can help users deal with pain, social discomfort, and even the loss of love. One one level, this revelation isn’t all that surprising: as anybody who has ever undergone “shop therapy” can attest, the rush that comes from brand new purchases can sometimes help dilute – or at least cover up – the pain of heartbreak, disappointment, or anxiety.
Generally, this seems to be a matter of distraction and misdirection. Rather than being forced to deal with amorphous, unpleasant feelings, the mind gets to focus on pretty baubles. Beyond that, some studies have shown that compulsive spenders also get a rush of dopamine and endorphins that can translate into feelings of comfort and security.
While previous research has uncovered a link between purchase and pleasure, this study goes a bit further, suggesting that money itself can help users to tolerate physical pain.
In the experiment, two groups of subjects were asked to immerse their fingers in bowls filled with water that had been heated to 122 degrees Fahrenheit. One group was asked to count piles of currency, while the other was asked to count blank sheets of paper.
After the experiment, the group that had counted paper slips seemed to think that the water was hotter, while the group that had counted money stated that they felt stronger.
Another interesting aspect of the study was that the anesthetizing effects of greenbacks lasted long after users had touched the cash. In some cases, there were up to 10 minutes between the time that subjects handled the money and when they placed their hands in the water. Even so, the correlation between pain reduction and money fondling remained intact.
Noting that previous studies have found that social interaction has a similar effect on pain management, researcher Xinyue Zhou postulated that money may, to some extent, be a substitute for social interaction.
However, while scientists debate whether a fistful of dollars can take the place of an armful of loved ones, it might be a good idea to try reaching for cash, instead of aspirin.