Holding back when it comes to our finances may seem like a personal gain, but a new study suggests that stinginess may affect our stress levels.
Researchers at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia examined the physiological response of study participants as they played in a financial bargaining game. Those who made relatively low offers experienced more stress than those who made generous ones. The results were published in the journal PLOS ONE.
In the experiment, participants were paired off and allotted a sum of money. One player was asked to divide it up however he or she liked, and the other could either accept or reject the offer. Researchers measured heart rate variabilities during the exchange. Players who made low offers -- as well as those on the receiving end of low offers, defined in the study as 40 percent of the total sum or less -- had increased heart rates.
According to researchers, the heart rate-based economic experiment is one of the first of its kind. The goal of the project was to measure mental stress when it comes to money and decision making, but the authors noted that stingy participants may also have experienced stress due to feelings of guilt.
"This can be seen as evidence that we empathize with people and put ourselves in their shoes in these sorts of situations," Markus Schaffner, study co-author and manager of the Queensland Behavioral Economics Group Laboratory for Economic Experiments at QUT, said in a statement. "The results indicate we have negative feelings when we treat someone unfairly, for example by offering below 40 percent of the total in the game. There is an emotional and physiological cost, and we feel uncomfortable."
The new study isn't the first time scientists have examined the benefits of altruism in the context of economics. Research shows charitable acts of giving boost our well-being and that money can only go so far when it comes to happiness.
When it comes down to it, it may simply pay more to be generous.