Money and the fear of death: The symbolic power of money as an existential anxiety buffer
Tomasz Zaleskiewicz et al., Journal of Economic Psychology, June 2013, Pages 55–67
Abstract: According to terror management theory, 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. Study 1 indicated that individuals reminded of their mortality overestimated the size of coins and monetary notes. In Study 2, participants induced to think about their mortality used higher monetary standards to define a person or family as rich than those in the control condition. Study 3 revealed that people reminded of death desired higher compensation for waiving the immediate payment of money. Finally, Study 4 showed that priming participants with the concept of money reduced self-reported fear of death. We conclude that, beyond its pragmatic utility, money possesses a strong psychological meaning that helps to buffer existential anxiety.
Nod to Kevin Lewis