How Does Stinginess Get Under the Skin?
Abstract (via Dunn, James, Aknin)
The present study examined how financial decisions ‘get under the skin’. Participants played an economic game in which they could donate some of their payment to another student. Affect was measured afterward and salivary cortisol was measured before and afterward. Participants who kept more money for themselves reported less positive affect, more negative affect, and more shame. Shame predicted higher levels of post-game cortisol, controlling for pre-game cortisol; stingy economic behavior therefore produced a significant indirect effect on cortisol via shame. Thus, shame and cortisol represent plausible emotional and biological pathways linking everyday decisions with downstream consequences for health.
Introduction (via Dunn, James, Aknin)
DO THE KINDS of economic decisions people make every day have downstream consequences for their health? When the bill comes after lunch with a friend, or a homeless man asks for spare change, or a Greenpeace volunteer requests a donation, individuals are faced with the opportunity to behave in a relatively generous or stingy fashion. In the present
research, by modeling these kinds of social dilemmas in a controlled setting, we explored the emotional and biological pathways through which financial decisions may ‘get under the skin’. We hypothesized that when individuals are presented with the opportunity to share their money with another person, the amount of money they choose to give will influence their subsequent emotional response, which in turn will shape physiological processes, including the secretion of the stress hormone cortisol.
Discussion (via Dunn, James, Aknin)
The present research suggests that stingy economic behavior can produce a feeling of shame, which in turn drives secretion of the stress hormone cortisol. To the best of our knowledge, this study is the first to identify the pathways through which a specific economic decision may ‘get under the skin’ to influence a health-related, biological process. Although we examined economic behavior in the controlled context of a dictator game, previous research suggests that the level of generosity individuals exhibit in the dictator game is correlated with their financial generosity (e.g. donations to charity) in daily life (Bekkers, 2007). Thus, individuals who exhibited stinginess in our dictator game may also respond this way when faced with similar decisions on a day-to-day basis, and over time, such behavior may have compounding consequences for health.