If a new study is the be believed, money can alleviate both physical pain as well as ease the sting of social rejection.
Since money can affect pain, the researchers theorised that it may offer clues as to how the brain evolved to process social interactions.
Using six different experiments, lead author Xinyue Zhou from Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou and colleagues tested the power of money as a proxy for social acceptance and found that merely touching bank notes or thinking about bills affected respondents both physically and emotionally.
In one experiment, undergraduate students were asked to count 100-dollar bills before playing a game where some players were ignored; those who had counted money before the game felt less distress than those who had counted paper instead.
In another, recruits were split into two groups who counted money or paper and then had their fingers strapped and dipped into hot water measuring 50 degrees Celsius. Those who counted money, on average, rated their pain lower than the paper counters.
To check whether money was merely a distraction from pain the researchers repeated the experiments, but without the bank notes and asked half the participants to write about the weather, and the other half to write about their expenses.
They found that merely writing about spent money caused distress, and also intensified the pain of fingers dipped in hot water and being ignored in the computer game.
"These effects speak to the power of money, even as a symbol, to change perceptions of very real feelings," like pain, Live Science quoted co-author of the study and University of Minnesota marketing professor Kathleen Vohs as saying.
Two other experiments implied those who feel physically hurt or rejected have a greater desire for money than those who don't, which may lead to a better understanding of how people become addicted to making money, said Zhou.
His experiments justify court-ordered financial compensation to victims of battery, he said, because if money is linked to physical pain, making attackers pay their victims is punishment that suits the crime, he said.
The findings were published in the June issue of Psychological Science.