Sputnik: Could you tell me a bit more about how your research was conducted?
Dr Eugene Chan: Yeah. So I conducted various studies to test my hypotheses that people in physical pain would be more likely to spend more money or overspend. So in one study, I recruited people outside of a dentist’s office in Melbourne, Australia, and people who were either coming out of the dental office or actually going into the dental office. So in that study, I was working under the expectation that if you were coming out of the dental office, you would be likely experiencing some physical pain because from the dental procedures, and what I found was that, in that study, if you were coming out of the dental office, you paid more money for a coffee mug, a simple unbranded coffee mug, compared to people who were just coming into the dental office. In one other study, I recruited undergraduate students into a behavioural laboratory. And I actually had them engage in what we call a cold pressor task. And this is where we put their non-dominant hand in cold water, about five degrees Celsius. And it induces pain, but it's not harmful. And while they had their non-dominant hand, engaged in five degrees, water, I had them indicate how much they would pay for a pair of headphones on the website. And they were more likely to pay for the headphones, and they paid more money compared to people who did not have to hand in the cold water.
Sputnik: What inspired you to undertake this research?
Dr. Eugene Chan: Yeah, so I mean, it started with the observation that we know a lot about how physical pain affects such outcomes as life satisfaction. Now the psychological well being and obviously, your physical health. But I know if you just observe around you, and you notice that, you know, people in physical pain still need to go out to the store to go to the shops and buy and make purchases, and they also go online shopping. And yet, we know very little about how physical pain affects consumer behaviour. And as a consumer psychologist, someone who's interested in studying consumer behaviour, I thought that was a very interesting question because it affects every one of us, not just because of, COVID-19. But every day, you know, people take Tylenol or other pain relief, medicine, medications, they experience pain in their everyday lives. And yet, we know very little about how that affects what they buy, or how they spend in the marketplace.
Sputnik: Do you think this is the same for people experiencing emotional pain?
Dr Eugene Chan: Yeah, I think that's an interesting question, because the human brain processes all different types of pain in the same area of the human brain, when so this is actually the explanation for my findings. So if you are experiencing physical pain, it basically dampens your ability to feel other types of pain. And what this also means is that if you experience emotional pain, maybe you just got maybe a significant other just broke up with you, or maybe you are socially excluded. That type of emotional pain, it still affects the same neurological centre of the human brain. And so by that same reasoning, not experiencing emotional pain could also dampen your ability to feel other types of pain, including this “pain of paying” that I was studying in my research.
Sputnik: Do you think that your research has revealed anything about physical pain, how it impacts our brain?
Dr. Eugene Chan: Yeah, so I don't want to veer too much in that regard, because I'm not a neuroscientist. But again, what I do know, what has been shown in the research is that there is a specific area of the brain that processes all different types of pain. So prior research has shown that if you get people into an MRI lab, the same structure of the brain lights up whether you are under physical pain and emotional pain, or even just “pain of paying” that I'm studying in my research.
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