Money fights the fear of death

 ·7 Jun 2013
Fear of death

New research conducted by the Universities of Warsaw and Colorado has provided evidence to suggest that having lots of money will make you feel less bothered by death.

According to Time, the experiments were inspired by the work of the American anthropologist Ernest Becker, who argues that people need some kind of defense to protect them from the fear of death.

According to Becker’s book, money gives power, and power is a means “to increase oneself, to change one’s natural situation from one of smallness, helplessness, finitude, to one of bigness, control, durability, importance”.

“In its power to manipulate physical and social reality, money in some ways secures one against contingency and accident,” Becker wrote.

The research, titled Money and the fear of death: The symbolic power of money as an existential anxiety buffer, is the work of the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Warsaw and University of Colorado.

The researchers looked at terror management theory, which says that people deal with the potential for anxiety that results from their knowledge of the inevitability of death, by holding on to sources of value that exist within their cultural worldview.

“We propose that money is one such source capable of soothing existential anxiety. We hypothesize that death anxiety would amplify the value attributed to money, and that the presence of money would alleviate death anxiety,” the researchers said.

To investigate their hypothesis, the researchers conducted studies where two groups – one experimental and one control group – would be faced with instances of their own mortality.

According to Time, one of these experiments was based on the notion that people tend to overestimate the physical size of things we consider to be important.

In the experiment, one group of participants was reminded of their mortality – while another group was directed to imagine an unpleasant, non-life-threatening situation (sitting in a dentist chair).

The group which was faced with the prospect of death overestimated the size of money between 34% (for coins) and 50% (for notes).

“This shows that the more people are worried about death, the more important money becomes to them,” the report said.

A different experiment showed that priming participants with the concept of money reduced their self-reported fear of death, and in another study participants who were directed to think about their mortality used higher monetary standards to define a person or family as rich.

Another study in the research project revealed that people who were reminded of death desired higher compensation for waiving the immediate payment of money.

“We conclude that, beyond its pragmatic utility, money possesses a strong psychological meaning that helps to buffer existential anxiety,” the researchers said.

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