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Cold Cash Is More Than Just a Metaphor

Researchers report that reminders of money make people feel physically cooler.
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(Photo: Nataliia K/Shutterstock)

(Photo: Nataliia K/Shutterstock)

Shivering your way through a very nasty winter? Here’s a tip to help you stay warm: Get your mind off money.

Newly published research finds the concept of currency makes people feel more physically cold.

“The metaphor of money inducing a cold heart holds some literal truth,” writes a research team led by psychologist Leonie Reutner of the University of Basel in Switzerland. Its study is published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

The concept of embodied cognition suggests our thoughts and feelings are unconsciously influenced by physical sensations.

Reutner and her colleagues describe two studies. In the first, 40 people “placed their hand in a bowl filed either with 97 bank notes of various values (an equivalent of $1,292 U.S.), or with an equal number of similarly colored paper slips.” To disguise the nature of the experiment, they were then asked to estimate the number of bills or pieces of paper in the bowl.

“Participants were then asked to give various estimates on their surroundings,” starting with “an estimate for the ambient temperature.” They were then asked to estimate the size of the room, and the height of the ceiling, among other measurements.

As predicted, those who had touched the cash “gave significantly lower estimates of room temperature,” the researchers write. “Money did not affect any of the other estimates.”

In a second study, 62 participants who similarly touched either bills or slips of paper placed their hand in a water basin pre-heated to exactly 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Once the water cooled down, they placed their hand in it once more and kept it there as it was reheated. “They indicated when they thought the water had reached its initial temperature by saying ‘stop.’”

Those who had touched money indicated that “the water had reached its prior temperature at a lower actual temperature compared to participants in the control group,” the researchers report. The water felt warmer to them because they were feeling chillier than their counterparts.

So in both cases, the researchers write, “mere reminders of money caused perceived physical coldness.”

These findings are particularly interesting given recent research finding exposure to money decreases helpful behavior. The concept of embodied cognition suggests our thoughts and feelings are unconsciously influenced by physical sensations.

Could it be that this cold-hearted attitude is the result of a physical cue of chilliness? It’s certainly possible.

Perhaps there’s a reason we refer to it as cold, hard cash.