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Hungry? Anxious? Stop Thinking About Money

In 2004, Ashley Revell sold everything he owned. He even sold his clothes. The 32-year-old took all the money he had and went to Las Vegas. Ashley walked up to the roulette wheel and put every last dime – $135,000 – on red. The ball bounced around the wheel. We'll show you what happened at the end of this story.

Does Ashley's story make you queasy? Whether it's some misplaced bills, a bad stock investment, or looming layoffs at work, even the thought of losing money can result in physical symptoms from sleepless nights to stomach aches. While some might dismiss these ailments as purely psychosomatic, the latest research suggests a very physical relationship between the brain and money.

Blood (Flow) Money

According to the Harvard Business Review, although the psychological aspects of negotiation were common knowledge, the connections between brain and money was only recognized in the mid 2000s after the development of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)—a procedure that measures brain activity by detecting changes associated with blood flow—made it possible to predict when someone was about to make an investment by looking at a scan of their brain.

Since the brain controls feelings of pain, hunger, and other physical sensations, it makes sense that the way we think about money would have an affect on the body as well. Science agrees wholeheartedly. There are real positive effects such as euphoria when you win a hand of blackjack, and negative effects like the gut-wrenching nausea of learning your rent is going up. In one 1997 study, researchers compared brain scans of addicts high on cocaine and non-addicts gambling: the images were almost identical.


While the above study was tied into the brain's nucleus accumbens (the area associated with pleasure and addition), other studies showed other areas of the brain could be triggered by thoughts of money as well, for example, in a study where subjects were asked to choose between stocks and bonds based on limited information, researchers realized that while risk-seeking behaviors activated the nucleus accumbens, risk-avoidant behavior (such as choosing a stock with a lower payout but more stability) activated the anterior insular cortex, the area associated with feelings of pain, emotion, and empathy.

The most fascinating thing is that the brain is affected more by money than anything else, including nudity and death. "Like food provides motivation for dogs, money provides it for people," said Stanford University researcher Dr. Brian Knutson.

Remember Ashley from the beginning of our story? The guy who bet $135,000 on red? A TV crew followed him to the casino. Check the video to see how that panned out.

Red or Black? Betting Your Whole Life on One Roulette Spin

Written by Curiosity Staff July 15, 2017

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