For Money, People Sooner Inflict Pain on Themselves than Others

When it comes to making financial gain, people would sooner inflict a moderate amount of pain on themselves than on others.

When it comes to making financial gain, people would sooner inflict a moderate amount of pain on themselves than on others, according to a study just completed at the University of College, London. The result is a welcome one given other studies that have hinted at the undue influence of our primal urges in day to day behavior.


For the experiment, eighty study participants played the role of decision maker and were prepared to receive higher electric shocks in exchange for moderate financial gain. When they were asked to shock another participant they believed was connected to the same electrode machine, they declined the financial reward. The decision makers also took more time to make their decision when given the option to shock another person, suggesting that moral deliberation does in fact result in more salutary behavior.  

"By contrast with the selfishness seen in economic trading games, this research shines a light on how the direct physical suffering of others triggers empathic responses that are altogether different from responses to other people's purely financial disadvantage - even though lack of money may result in suffering too."

In his interview with Big Think, Duke University behavioral economist Dan Ariely explains how our moral reasoning is translated into daily behavior. He theorizes that the more finances are abstracted—for example, in the plethora of financial products now available to investors—the more likely we are to act against our own idea of how people should behave:

Read more at BPS Research

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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