The findings indicate that the link may be driven, at least in part, by feeling a lack of control over one’s life.
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, the researches explained.
“Overall, our findings reveal that it physically hurts to be economically insecure,” said lead author Eileen Chou from University of Virginia in the US.
“Results from six studies establish that economic insecurity produces physical pain, reduces pain tolerance and predicts over-the-counter painkiller consumption,” Chou added in a paper published in the journal of Psychological Science.
The researchers stemmed from an observation of two co-occurring trends: increasing economic insecurity and increasing complaints of physical pain.
Evidence from a lab-based study suggested that economic insecurity might be also linked with tolerance for pain.
For the study, participants who were prompted to think about an uncertain job market showed a decrease in pain tolerance and was measured by how long they could comfortably keep their hand in a bucket of ice water;
Participants who were prompted to think about entering a stable job market showed no change in pain tolerance.
The team 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.
Together, the results highlight the importance of distinguishing between subjective and objective experience.
“Individuals’ subjective interpretation of their own economic security has crucial consequences above and beyond those of objective economic status,” researchers wrote.