Is money the ultimate pain reliever?

U. MINNESOTA (US)—Simply holding money may actually reduce pain—both physical and emotional.

In a recent study, Kathleen Vohs, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota, had one group of subjects count cash and another count slips of paper. Soon after, she asked all the subjects to dip their hands in very hot water and rate the pain they felt. Those who had just counted cash rated their pain as significantly less than those who counted the paper.

In a related study, cash counters who were later shunned by others while playing a computer game felt less excluded than those who counted the slips of paper.

“In both of those experiments, we found that when people were reminded of money, otherwise painful events were not so painful,” Vohs says. “It’s a robust and very strong finding.” Details of the findings were reported in the Harvard Business Review.

Voucher vs. cash

Vohs’s findings carry numerous implications, especially in the business world. For example, if a flight is delayed for eight hours, an airline might typically give its snarly, malcontent passengers a voucher toward a future flight. Vohs suggests throwing them a different bone.

“My research would say that they would feel better—they would feel less pain—if they were handed cold, hard cash as opposed to . . . a voucher,” she says.

Could the thought of money even help in a medical setting? Vohs thinks that’s a possibility.

“I’ve recently given several talks in front of medical audiences and that is an idea,” she says. “To assuage the pain in a medical circumstance, you may want to give [patients] reminders of cash, because it might psychologically be beneficial and then they wouldn’t feel quite so much pain.

‘Ease his pain’

From a terminal gate to a hospital room to . . . the dating scene?

Vohs, in the name of creative solutions for all segments of society, thinks the pain-relieving qualities of money might even be of benefit to a single male on the make in the dating world.

“We’ve been toying with the idea of giving men lots of cold, hard cash to handle before going into the nightlife scene, to soften some of the stings of social rejection that will occur when they’re out on the prowl,” Vohs says. “So, there are lots of different ways you can think about handling money and pain.”

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