Sunday, April 5, 2009

Slum Dog Millionaire & The Psychology of Money, Part I

Journal Entry: Body Weight = 177.8; Coinage = $.72 (.20 from residual walks), 22 pennies, 4 nickels, 3 dimes; Glass bottles retrieved = 11. Best find, a walk over dime in a Canal St. curb side.

Feature Entry: One of the MoneyWalker’s off-line followers called the behavior of looking for money while walking for exercise bizarre (a separate feature on bizarre later). But for those of us that look for and find lost money, the behavior is perfectly rational. It all has to do with the psychology of money. The hit movie Slum Dog Millionaire reminds us that the psychological laws that explain the pursuit of money is international and culture free.

Social psychologist Lea and Webley (The biological psychology of a strong incentive. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 29(02), 161-209) study peoples’ preoccupation with the acquisition of money. The attainment of money, whether for good or evil, is part of human nature. We that are socialized in Western culture are taught early that the possession of money provides our identity, and that more is better--that money is a barometer of our worth. So when we moneywalkers find money in the street it is if we have found a nugget of gold to be exchanged somehow as payment for the requirement of continually building or maintaining our established individuality. A penny found is so much more than just a penny!

Economists are apt to define money as a tool, as having utility. But psychologists see money as having an addictive quality, like a drug. At a base level it represents or symbolizes having or not having. When money psychologists look for analogs to money they often select food. In modern times, people’s age-old desire for food has been replaced by money. It should not surprise us when we see lost coins they seem to trigger primitive gathering reflexes. In fact, neuroscientists have now located a specific region of the brain that “lights up” at the moment of finding a lost coin. This phenomenon is very addictive.

Not only does the sight of found money literally loom large in our minds; we instill the location of the find with a special status. We always remember the spot of the find and we never fail to give careful consideration to the spot on future walks.

On our next blog about the psychology of money, the MoneyWalker will answer the question: Does money make you happy? Or similarly, Are people with more money happier than people with less? The answers may surprise you.

But for now I must go, Ms. MoneyWalker is balancing the checkbook and she is calling for me to answer a few entries that she claims require my personal knowledge.



  1. If I must be addicted to something I'm glad that it is finding money. My husband loves to tell people that we would never starve because I pick up enough to keep us supplied with bread. The truth is that he likes to do the counting after I dump the haul on the counter. Maybe he is addicted, too? He's definately an enabler.

    Now I better get to bed because this morning the brief walk was not very productive. Not much "lighting up" in the brain. Tomorrow is predicted to be the only nice day this week so I need to get out while I can.

    By the way, all this psychology stuff is bringing back lots of memories from my college days in the 80's. Looking forward to reading about the money/happiness connection.

  2. I liked that "lighting up" reference. Will come back to it later. As for the psychology postings, more will come. This week we are going to Destin Fl for Easter, four couples of friends, two are psychology professors. One is chair of Department at Clemson. It was he that introduced me to money walking. With his permission, I plan to do a formal interview and post it on the web.

  3. Interesting view, thanks. I have been gathering money (I'll call it treasure ) for a long time, in various forms. I do some moneywalking but focus more on metal detecting. I can say that what is found on the paved surface pales in comparison to the lost money that has disappeared just under unpaved surfaces. Visit my blog at for my slant on the pursuit.

  4. Twincapes, I was happy to see your post. I immediately when to frugalpirate to have a look. Very nice. I signed to follow. More interesting was reading your expanded bio. We share many interest--thrift shops, garage sales, etc. Look forward to reading more of your thoughts and discoveries. Do you have specific things you look for at garage sales and thrift stores? I collect used books, cassette tapes, miniture ducks, and minature boats.

  5. I wonder sometimes if it's more the money or the hunt. "It's not the treasure, it's the finding of the treasure"...I think from Pirates of the caribbean. Interesting question, though. Once we have it, we toss it in a jar, and yearn to be back out there. thrill of actually making the find. mmmm...