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Sadness And Your Wallet

person's hands holding money

Scientists are studying how different kinds of sadness affect your generosity. (Thomas Leuthard, Flickr)

You’ve probably heard the phrase “Sadder but wiser,” implying that feeling low somehow makes us think more clearly. But according to one study, sadness seems to make us less wise, at least when it comes to money.

Harvard researchers showed study participants three video clips: one about the death of a young boy’s mentor, another featuring a dirty toilet, and a third about the Great Barrier Reef. After viewing the videos, the subjects were required to make a series of choices involving cash rewards.

Essentially, they had to choose whether to get a certain amount of money at the end of the study, or wait to receive a bigger prize at some point in the future.

The participants who watched the sad video about the boy’s mentor tended to go for the immediate reward. Subjects who watched the gross toilet video or the neutral Barrier Reef video were more likely to defer gratification and wait for the larger amount. So those who watched the sad video ended up earning less money.

In other words, feelings of sadness produced what the researchers termed “myopic misery” meaning that feeling down made them more short-sighted when it came to making smart financial choices. The phenomenon could have implications for people making important financial decisions in the wake of the death of a loved one or some other sad experience.

Read More:

Lerner, Jennifer S. Li, Ye. Eber, Elke U. The Financial Costs of Sadness. Psychological Science. November 13, 2012. Re-accessed for 2018 re-run on November 26, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797612450302

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