The Financial Cost of Sadness


Lerner JS, Li Y, Weber EU. The Financial Cost of Sadness. In Press.


Hundreds of studies have examined the “sadder-but-wiser” hypothesis—that sad people make wiser decisions—and most find support for it. But virtually no tests of the hypothesis examined financial decisions, which are some of the most frequent and consequential decisions people make. To address this gap, the present experiments examined the effects of sadness on intertemporal financial choices of the form $X now versus $(X+Y) later—typical of the choices people make when considering whether to spend now or save to spend more later. Studies of intertemporal choices typically reveal extreme impatience. That is, people choose earlier rewards over significantly larger, later rewards, often leading to regret. Would sadness reverse the typical impatience pattern in choices—by increasing wisdom and decreasing impatience—per the sadder-but-wiser hypothesis? Three experiments tested the hypothesis, inducing sadness in randomly assigned participants and then offering participants an intertemporal financial choice unrelated to the source of sadness. Each experiment found that sadness dramatically increased impatience: Relative to the median neutral-mood participant, the median sad-mood participant was willing to accept 35% to 79% less money today to avoid waiting for a payoff. Sadness increased impatience even though the emotion was normatively irrelevant to the choice. In sum, sadder is not wiser when it comes to making tradeoffs between time and money.

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