One of those interesting science articles talking about addiction to money.
You’ve got a hold on me
Last Updated: March 20. 2009 8:30AM UAE / March 20. 2009 4:30AM GMT
Dough, wonga, greenbacks, cash. Just words, you might say, but they carry an eerie psychological force. Chew them over for a few moments, and you will become a different person. Simply thinking about words associated with money seems to makes us more self-reliant and less inclined to help others. And it gets weirder: just handling cash can take the sting out of social rejection and even diminish physical pain.
This is all the stranger when you consider what money is supposed to be. For economists, it is nothing more than a tool of exchange that makes economic life more efficient. Yet money stirs up more passion, stress and envy than any axe or hammer ever could. We just cannot seem to deal with it rationally but why?
Even as a simple medium of exchange, money can take a bewildering variety of forms, from the strips of bark and feathers of old, through gold coins, pound notes and dollar bills, to data in a bank’s computer – mostly cold, unemotional stuff. The value of £100 is supposed to lie in how much milk or fuel it can purchase and nothing else. You should care no more about being shortchanged £5 at the supermarket checkout than losing the same amount when borrowing money to buy a £300,000 house. Similarly, you should value £10 in loose change the same as £10 in your bank account that you have mentally set aside for your niece’s birthday.
In reality we are not that rational. Instead of treating cash simply as a tool to be wielded with objective precision, we allow money to reach inside our heads and tap into the ancient emotional parts of our brain, often with unpredictable results. To understand how this affects our behaviour, some economists are starting to think more like evolutionary anthropologists.
Daniel Ariely of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is one of them. He suggests that modern society presents us with two distinct sets of behavioural rules. There are the social norms, which are “warm and fuzzy” and designed to foster long-term relationships, trust and co-operation. Then there is a set of market norms, which revolve around competition, and encourage individuals to put their own interests first.
Experiments published in 2007 by Kathleen Vohs in the department of marketing at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis reveal that even a passing contact with concepts linked to money puts us into a market-orientated mentality, making us think and behave in characteristic ways. Volunteers who had been primed with the money-related words worked on the task for longer before asking for help. In a related experiment, people in the money-word group were also significantly less likely to help a fellow student who asked for assistance than were people in the group primed with non-money words.
Now that the days of easy credit and rampant consumerism appear to be over, for the time being at least, it would be nice to think that we might acquire a more balanced relationship with money. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely to be that simple. One reason why is exposed by Prof Vohs’s latest findings, to be published soon in the journal Psychological Science.
Prof Vohs and the psychologists Xinyue Zhou of Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China, and Roy Baumeister of Florida State University, Tallahassee, found that people who felt rejected by others, or were subjected to physical pain, were subsequently less likely to give a monetary gift in a game situation. The researchers then went on to show that just handling paper money could reduce the distress associated with social exclusion, and also diminish the physical pain caused by touching hot water.
The psychologists Stephen Lea at the University of Exeter, UK, and Paul Webley at the University of London believe that it acts on our minds rather like an addictive drug, giving it the power to drive some of us to compulsive gambling, overwork or obsessive behaviour “It is an interesting possibility that all these are manifestations of a broader addiction to money,” says Prof Lea. Compulsion appears to be a problem for people with several money-related disorders which are increasingly being identified by psychologists.Profs Lea and Webley propose that money, like nicotine or cocaine, can activate the brain’s pleasure centres. There’s even evidence for the notion of ‘addiction’ to money in brain imaging studies. In one experiment, for example, a team led by Samuel McClure, at Princeton University, asked volunteers to choose between receiving a voucher for Amazon.com right then, or a higher-value one a few weeks later. Those who chose the instant reward showed brain activity in the areas linked with emotion, especially the limbic system, which is known to be involved in much impulsive behaviour and drug addiction. Those choosing the delayed reward showed activity in areas such as the prefrontal cortex known to be involved in rational planning.
The idea that money taps into brain circuits evolved to make biologically important activities rewarding is given a further boost by another strange discovery. In an attempt to provide an evolutionary explanation for our motivation to strive for money in present-day societies, Barbara Briers of the HEC business school in Paris, France, and colleagues decided to test whether our appetite for cash is related to our appetite for food.
Hungry volunteers were less likely to donate to charity than those who were satiated; those primed to have a high desire for money, by having imagined winning a big lottery, went on to eat the most sweets in a taste test; and people whose appetites had been piqued by sitting in a room with a delicious smell, gave less money in a game situation than those who played in a normal-smelling room.Briers reckons this indicates that our brain processes ideas about money using the same pathways evolved to think about food. If she is correct, it puts a whole new spin on the term ‘greedy bankers.’
As for the ever present question about whether money can make you happy, people with more money do tend to be happier – but only up to a point. That is the conclusion of the psychologists Ed Diener at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, who have reviewed numerous studies looking at the psychological effects of wealth. They report that money’s impact on happiness suffers from diminishing returns.http://www.thenational.ae/article/20090320/FRONTIERS/570962582/1036/OPINION