A new study seems to suggest that even mere thoughts of money are so powerful as to even ease the pain of social rejection.
According to research by Xinyue Zhou from Sun Yat-Sen University, handling money can soothe the sting of social rejection and appease the physical pain of hot water. However, remembering cash one has spent intensifies both types of hurt.
"Money activates a general sense of confidence, strength, and efficacy," the researchers propose.
To test how subconscious thoughts of gaining or losing money affected their resistance to both the pain of social rejection and the pain of immersing their fingers in hot water, psychologist Zhou ran half a dozen experiments with groups of between 72 and 108 students, reports Nature.
In the study, students played a computer game called Cyberball, in which players think they are playing catch with three other individuals. These are actually being controlled by the computer, which eventually refuses to throw the ball to the human player.
The volunteers who had physically handled money before playing, thinking they were completing a finger-dexterity task, reported feeling less distress on a standard social self-esteem scale than those who had handled blank pieces of paper.
In another experiment, students who counted money before plunging their fingers into hot water reported lower pain levels than those who had counted paper. The money-handling students also reported feeling stronger than the paper shufflers did.
The researchers asked some students to write down their recent expenses before playing Cyberball, while others simply wrote about the weather. Those who had written about their expenses reported feeling greater distress when they were excluded from the virtual game.