Social exclusion and monetary loss are perceived as painful. The pain produced by these two kinds of events shares similar psychological and physiological systems with physical pain. Thus, physical pain, social pain, and monetary-loss pain were generally regarded as overlapping pain systems in previous theories. In this article, we propose that social exclusion is painful because it is a threat to a primary psychological buffer against pain—social support—whereas monetary loss is painful because money is a secondary pain buffer. Here both social support and money are conceptualized as pain buffers. We review a growing body of empirical data that support this contention. On the basis of a comprehensive analysis of the sociocultural and personal functions of social support and money, we formulate two basic hypotheses that have received empirical support. First, anticipation of pain heightens the desire for social support as well as the desire for money. Second, both social support and money reminders alleviate pain, whereas social exclusion and monetary loss result in an upsurge of pain awareness. In our view, social support is the primary defense against pain and the reliance on money may result from the failure of social support to accomplish its pain-buffering goal.
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