Financial stress may lead to physical pain: study

Last Updated 22 February 2016, 10:05 IST

People who feel that their financial outlook is shaky may actually experience more physical pain than those who feel economically secure, scientists including one of Indian-origin suggest.

The findings indicate that the link may be driven by feeling a lack of control over one's life, researchers said.

"Overall, our findings reveal that it physically hurts to be economically insecure," said lead study author Eileen Chou of the University of Virginia in US.

"Results from six studies establish that economic insecurity produces physical pain, reduces pain tolerance, and predicts over-the-counter painkiller consumption," Chou said.
The research stemmed from an observation of two co-occurring trends - increasing economic insecurity and increasing complaints of physical pain.

The researchers, including Bidhan Parmar of University of Virginia, hypothesised that these trends might actually be linked.

They said that feelings of economic insecurity would lead people to feel a lack of control in their lives, which would, in turn, activate psychological processes associated with anxiety, fear and stress.

These psychological processes have been shown to share similar neural mechanisms to those underlying pain.

Data from a diverse consumer panel of 33,720 individuals showed that households in which both adults were unemployed spent 20 per cent more on over-the-counter painkillers in 2008 compared with households with at least one employed adult.

An online study with 187 participants indicated that two measures of economic insecurity - participants' own unemployment and state-level insecurity - were correlated with participants' reports of pain.

In another online study, participants who recalled a period of economic instability reported almost double the amount of physical pain than did participants who recalled an economically stable period.

This pattern of findings remained even after the researchers took other factors - including age, employment status, and negative emotion - into account.

Evidence from a lab-based study suggested that economic insecurity might be also linked with tolerance for pain.

Student participants who were prompted to think about an uncertain job market showed a decrease in pain tolerance, measured by how long they could comfortably keep their hand in a bucket of ice water; students who were prompted to think about entering a stable job market showed no change in pain tolerance.

The researchers found that the degree to which participants felt in control of their lives helped to account for the association between feelings of economic insecurity and reports of physical pain.

"Individuals' subjective interpretation of their own economic security has crucial consequences above and beyond those of objective economic status," researchers said.

The study was published in the journal Psychological Science.

(Published 22 February 2016, 10:05 IST)

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