Science Says Being Broke Could Actually Cause You Physical Pain

by Sean Levinson
Julien L. Balmer

Worrying about your income may make you more vulnerable to discomfort.

According to Medical Daily, a series of studies conducted at the University of Virginia found people were more likely to experience physical pain in situations involving financial stress.

The team first examined data collected from 33,720 US homes.

Households in which both adults were unemployed reportedly spent approximately 20 percent more on painkillers than homes in which just one adult was out of work.

An online survey found financial insecurity and pain were directly correlated, according to ScienceAlert. In other words, the more financially insecure someone was, the more pain he or she reported.

The researchers also had 100 participants fill out an online survey asking them to recall two different times in their lives for at least 90 seconds each.

First, participants recalled a memory of a time when they felt like they had complete financial control of their lives. Then, they were asked to recall a memory when they felt the opposite way.

Participants were asked to report how they felt right after recalling each memory.

The second memory generated nearly twice as much reported pain as the first memory.

Arguably, the most conclusive results were produced in an experiment featuring 114 student participants split into two groups.

While holding their hands in ice water, the students in one group read a statement about a prosperous job market while the students in the second group read a statement about a worrisome job market.

The students who read the second scenario were not able to keep their hands in the ice water for as long as the students in the first group, suggesting the scenario caused their pain tolerance to drop.

Eileen Chou, the lead researcher and a professor of public policy at the University of Virginia, said in a press release,

Overall, our findings reveal that it physically hurts to be economically insecure. Results from six studies establish that economic insecurity produces physical pain, reduces pain tolerance and predicts over-the-counter painkiller consumption.

Financial stress often causes people to feel out of control, and this psychological turmoil appears to spread throughout the body.

The body's reaction to financial stress may even be comparable to the way humans used to react to the presence of predators.

But, Chou and her colleagues believe people can learn how to avoid financial stress that leads to physical pain.

The researchers wrote,

By showing that physical pain has roots in economic insecurity and feelings of lack of control, the current findings offer hope for short-circuiting the downward spiral initiated by economic insecurity and producing a new, positive cycle of well-being and pain-free experience.

This research was originally published in Psychological Science.

Citations: Financial Stress Can Lower Pain Tolerance: How To Cope When Money Problems Hurt (Medical Daily), Financial stress can cause you physical pain, scientists find (ScienceAlert), Experiencing Financial Stress May Lead to Physical Pain (Association for Psychological Science), Economic Insecurity Increases Physical Pain (Psychological Science)