I’m going to be traveling tomorrow, so I’m spending today getting ready. Instead of a long post about research, I thought I’d link you to a paper Stephen E. G. Lea by in press at Behavioral and Brain Sciences. For those of you who don’t know, Behavioral and Brain Sciences has a target article (the linked paper is a target article), followed by peer commentaries on that article, and then the target article’s author’s response to those commentaries. The discussion of this paper should be pretty interesting. Here’s the abstract:
Money as tool, money as drug: The biological psychology of a strong incentive.
Why are people interested in money? Specifically, what could be the biological basis for the extraordinary incentive and reinforcing power of money, which seems to be unique to the human species? We identify two ways in which a commodity which is of no biological significance in itself can become a strong motivator. The first is if it is used as a tool, and by a metaphorical extension this is often applied to money: it is used instrumentally, in order to obtain biologically relevant incentives. However substances can be strong motivators because they imitate the action of natural incentives but do not produce the fitness gains for which those incentives are instinctively sought. The classic examples of this process are psychoactive drugs, but we argue that the drug concept can also be extended metaphorically to provide an account of money motivation. From a review of theoretical and empirical literature about money, we conclude (i) that there are a number of phenomena that cannot be accounted for by a pure Tool Theory of money motivation; (ii) that supplementing it with a Drug Theory enables the anomalous phenomena to be explained; and (iii) that the human instincts that, according to a Drug Theory, money parasitizes include trading (derived from reciprocal altruism) and object play.
Read the paper, and if you have any thoughts, feel free to leave them here. Once I get to my destination, I’ll post something on a related paper published recently.