The present study examined how financial decisions ‘get under the skin’. Participants played an economic game in which they could donate some of their payment to another student. Affect was measured afterward and salivary cortisol was measured before and afterward. Participants who kept more money for themselves reported less positive affect, more negative affect, and more shame. Shame predicted higher levels of post-game cortisol, controlling for pre-game cortisol; stingy economic behavior therefore produced a significant indirect effect on cortisol via shame. Thus, shame and cortisol represent plausible emotional and biological pathways linking everyday decisions with downstream consequences for health.
Dunn, E. W., Ashton-James, C. E., Hanson, M. D., &Aknin, L. B. (2010). On the costs of self-interested economic behavior: How does stinginess get under the skin?. Journal of Health Psychology, 15(4), 627-633.