Money Fix – The Widespread Psychological, Physiological, and Emotional Effect Of Currency Addiction

When a billionaire like Mark Cuban is heralded as a “success” and put on the front of Forbes Magazine, his addiction to money goes unnoticed. Money is a powerful stimulus in three distinct behavior modification methods: Classical conditioning, Operant conditioning and Aversive Conditioning. Evidence suggests that money appeals to the brain directly and indirectly, and is responsible for biological, emotional and physiological effects. Each reaction warrants a different need to go after money to receive a shot of dopamine from the nucleus accumbens. Dopamine is a chemical which is created inside the nucleus accumbens, when created, changes a brain and gives it a sense of euphoria. A primary reinforcement is a set of needs that are required to survive and gives a shot of dopamine to the brain when they are satisfied. Stimulus, as a secondary conditioned response requires a positive reinforcement in order to influence behavior.

According to the documentary How I Became a Billionaire: Mark Cuban Mark Cuban is a billionaire entrepreneur who made his fortune by starting one of the first online broadcast networks at the beginning of the 21st century (Knappenberger 2012). The purpose of hoarding massive amounts of money, such as a billion dollars- more money than anyone could spend in a lifetime- serves little purpose, in fact according to a study conducted by Daniel Kahneman at Princeton University (2010), household income does not impact emotional behavior past the threshold point of $75,000/year.

“More money does not necessarily buy more happiness …  Perhaps $75,000 is a threshold beyond which further increases in income no longer improve individuals’ ability to do what matters most to their emotional well-being.” (p.16492)

Kahneman explains that other modes of measurement such as spending time with loved ones does not have a peak threshold like household income does. Furthermore, when contrasted with other habits such as smoking or loneliness, average income past the threshold of $75,000 per year, made the former easier to measure.

“Income and education are more closely related to life evaluation, but health, care giving, loneliness, and smoking are stronger predictors of daily emotions. When plotted against log income, life evaluation rises steadily. Emotional well-being also rises with log income, but there is no further progress beyond an annual income of ∼$75,000.” (Kahneman, 2010, p. 16489).

Mark Cuban’s purpose of amassing great amounts of money was not something that was part of his nature because he learned it. Classical conditioning is a method of behavior modification popularized by Ivan Pavlov and his salivating dog. Classical conditioning requires a stimulus and a reward to effectively reinforce a behavior. In society, money acts as a secondary reinforcement when an accommodation is paid for such as bills or entertainment, the positive reinforcement from paying for things guarantees money as a secondary reinforcement.   But money also appeals to the part of the brain that signals for primitive needs as well.

Primary reinforcements are primitive needs like food, shelter, and sex, these needs do not require conditioning in order to be learned however, there is a fourth need, which is money. Primitive needs are different because they appeal to an ancient section of the brain called the nucleus accumbens (Dubuc,2010). Currency appeals to the same part of the brain that rewards primitive actions. According to Southern Arkansas University- Magnolia (2016) currency also acts as a secondary conditioning method.

“Primary reinforcements are biological like food and drink, but most human reinforcements are secondary, or conditioned. Examples include money grades in schools, and tokens.” Primary and Secondary Reinforcement Para. 1

This quote provides a definition of Second order conditioning and explains that a primary reinforcement is aligned with primitive needs and requires little to no reward in order to learn. However, secondary conditioning does require a positive reinforcement to condition a certain behavior. Therefore, money is a powerful primary and secondary stimulus to modify behavior. While primitive needs like food and water are required to survive, it is arguable that people may go through life without reproducing, but money is a requirement within society.

The rewards concerning everything involved with money are spread across society. Stimulus like gaining employment and saving money, expose individuals to a plethora of positive reinforcements. This means that money is conditioned heavily within society. According to the 2010 documentary Mind Over Money (Audette 2010) the nucleus accumbens is partially responsible for sending out reward chemicals known as Dopamine and Serotonin to other parts of the brain. The nucleus accumbens is also responsible in large part for drug addiction because of its ability to send reward signals. Money is also a powerful stimulant for this part of the brain which means drugs and money supply the same part of the brain. (Audette 2010). The key part of behavior modification is the fact that a stimulus or reward is reacted upon by pure emotion which means a positive reinforcement requires a positive emotional reaction.

During an auction in the film Mind Over Money (2010) the item for sale was a twenty-dollar bill. The auction was between a group of about 15 people who bid money for the 20-dollar bill. The participants bid against each other until there were two people remaining who were alternating bids. Ultimately, the winning bid was 28 dollars for a 20-dollar bill (Audette 2010). The emotional demand for gaining currency in this situation outweighed the inherent value of the 20-dollar bill. This is similar to how Mark Cuban reacts to earning money.

The reason why Mark Cuban did not retire after attaining a billion-dollar sale on his first business is because the action of obtaining money was more satisfying (Knappenberger 2012). The compound appeal of currency to the human brain is emphasized in society because of its importance as an economic good. The physiological, psychological, and emotional effects of money go hand in hand with advertisements in the world because of the natural draw of money. When an advertisement is presented to an individual in the world and they respond by buying the product in the ad this is called Operant conditioning.

According to the Southern Arkansas University-Magnolia “An animal in an operant chamber will eventually direct its attention to the manipulandum (lever) (2016)” What this means is that an individual modified by operant conditioning needs to interact with the environment (response) to gain a reinforcement. In the 2003 film Hulk Sam Elliott says, “Shut down power to the main hall… show him the way out” The hulk is escaping from a facility and the lights shut off except for the ones that lead to the exit (Lee, 2003). This is a good example of operant conditioning. Environmental causes for money to be an operant stimulus are in the advertisements that pedestrians are exposed to everyday. The key point is whether the response to their environment will have a positive or negative effect.     When fear is used as a stimulus such as shock therapy that is meant to inhibit a certain behavior and is called aversive conditioning. According to a study conducted by M.R. Delgado (2006) at Rutgers University gaining money is not only a powerful positive reinforcement, but losing money can be a powerful negative reinforcement.

“The goal of this study was to determine if money, a secondary reinforcement that acquires its reinforcing properties through social communication and interaction, could influence aversive conditioning, and to compare its efficacy with a primary reinforcement, namely shock. In three separate experiments, participants’ physiological and subjective responses to a stimulus that predicted a monetary loss were higher than responses to a non-predictive conditioned stimulus. Furthermore, loss of money was as effective in driving aversive conditioning as shock, when the reinforcement was presented in separate aversive conditioning sessions” (p. 250).

Delgado explains how in three separate instances on individual reaction to tests designed to create an aversive stimulus like losing money, the emotional reaction was akin to that of an electric shock, however money is a common secondary reinforcement, the response to receiving a shock is a primary reinforcement. This means that money is powerful enough to trigger a primitive area of the brain regardless of whether the behavior modifier involves a positive or negative stimulus.

The positive and negative effects of money in society culminate in advertisements across TV, Radio, newspapers, and the internet. Taunting slogans that boast the saving of money and broad billboards that advertise loans and everything in between are reinforcing a behavior to always acquire money. While it is difficult to examine the brain and draw conclusions towards the effects of money, there are countless studies being conducted to understand the brain. Money is a stimulus that is documented in several studies to impact humans on an emotional, biological, and physiological level. However, the mind is subjected to countless stimulus that contribute to behavior modification every day. Money addiction may be a widespread phenomenon that is socially acceptable, however there are thousands of other variables that affect the human brain. Mark Cuban is undoubtedly addicted to money and his need to gain more money is completely enabled by society. The solution I think that will avert money addiction is more financial counseling and a wider awareness of how money can fuel withdrawal and encourage at risk individuals of looking for the dopamine response elsewhere.










Money fix

The widespread psychological, physiological, and emotional effect of money in society



Audette, S. (Ed.) Clark, Malcolm(Prod). (2010, April 26). Mind Over Money. Retrieved September 26, 2016, from

C, W., C, T., & M, G. (2016, June 13). Primary and Secondary Reinforcement. Retrieved October 19, 2016, from

C, W., C, T., & M, G. (2016, June 13). Operant Conditioning. Retrieved October 19, 2016, from

Delgado, M. R., Labouliere, C. D., & Phelps, E. A. (2006). Fear of losing money? Aversive conditioning with secondary reinforcers. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 1(3), 250–259.

Horvath, A., PHD, Misra, A., PHD, Epner, A. K., PHD, & Cooper, G. M., PHD. (2016, August 30). Operant Conditioning and Addiction. Retrieved October 03, 2016, from

Kahneman, D., & Deaton, A. (2010). High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being. Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107(38), 16489-16493. doi:10.1073/pnas.1011492107

Knappenberger, B. (2012). Mark Cuban How I Became a Billionaire (A. Roberson & K. Thornal, Eds.). Retrieved October 06, 2016, from

Lee, A. (Director). (2003). Hulk [Motion picture]. United states: Universal Pictures.

Vinton, K. (2016, September 16). Billionaire Mark Cuban Says He’ll Give Trump $10 Million If He Agrees to an Interview with Cuban. Retrieved October 06, 2016, from


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