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University of Minnesota

Prescription for pain?

April 5, 2010

A man counts hundred-dollar bills.

The study by Kathleen Vohs, an associate professor of marketing at the Carlson School of Management, found that cash and reminders of cash can reduce people's perception of physical and emotional pain.

New University research finds that handling cash may alleviate pain

By Rick Moore

“Money can't buy you happiness, but it does bring you a more pleasant form of misery.”

That quote by Spike Milligan, the late Irish comedian, is one of dozens of lighthearted takes on money and what it brings, or fails to bring, to our lives.

Turns out Milligan may have been on to something. New findings by University researcher Kathleen Vohs show that cash might indeed reduce people’s pain—both physical and emotional—as well as give them an inner strength.

In her study, Vohs had one group of subjects count cash and another 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.”

Getting out of hot water

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 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 … a meet market?

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, smiling. “So, there are lots of different ways you can think about handling money and pain.”

Men, take note: If you can’t handle rejection, handle money.



This article originally appeared in 2010.

Tags: Carlson School of Management

videoKathleen Vohs on cash and pain 

Kathleen Vohs on cash and pain

Read more about Kathleen Vohs, an associate professor of marketing, McKnight Land-Grant Professor, and McKnight Presidential Fellow.