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.”

More news from the University of Minnesota:

chat3 Comments


  1. Lawrence Turner

    This makes perfect sense … most people are happier when they feel are close to their god !

    “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” – spoken by Jesus Matthew 6:24

  2. Pierre

    Interesting findings! It would be useful to check if this applies to other cultures. US culture is highly influenced by money… Money is an obsession.

  3. David Hicks

    Great article. And by the sour tone of the first comment you can see how deeply the emotional connections run.

    In my book and seminar I get people to go to the bank and carry around three $100 bills in their wallet for a week and note how different it makes them feel and behave, though they’re neither any richer or poorer for it. And then put it back to gauge the difference again. I’ve seen dramatic impacts, including healing marital stresses.

    Looking beyond the immediate, analgesic effect of touching cash in your article and video clip, I see money is charged with so many emotional, spiritual and kinesthetic associations that are both helpful and hindering. The result is often internal conflict because of our mixed messages, personal experiences, family training, religious teaching, cultural stereotypes, etc. In other words, stress.

    Although my work is primarily with church-based groups, I find the same dynamics in play across our society. Pierre’s question is a good one though.

We respect your privacy.