"Money as tool, money as drug: The biological psychology of a strong incentive"
Stephen E. G. Lea and Paul Webley
Why are people interested in money? Specifically, what could be the
biological basis for the extraordinary incentive and reinforcing power of
money, which seems to be unique to the human species? We identify two ways
in which a commodity which is of no biological significance in itself can
become a strong motivator. The first is if it is used as a tool, and by a
metaphorical extension this is often applied to money: it is used
instrumentally, in order to obtain biologically relevant incentives.
However substances can be strong motivators because they imitate the action
of natural incentives but do not produce the fitness gains for which those
incentives are instinctively sought. The classic examples of this process
are psychoactive drugs, but we argue that the drug concept can also be
extended metaphorically to provide an account of money motivation. From a
review of theoretical and empirical literature about money, we conclude (i)
that there are a number of phenomena that cannot be accounted for by a pure
Tool Theory of money motivation; (ii) that supplementing it with a Drug
Theory enables the anomalous phenomena to be explained; and (iii) that the
human instincts that, according to a Drug Theory, money parasitizes include
trading (derived from reciprocal altruism) and object play.
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