The fear of losing money can be similar to the fear of physical pain, according to a study of brain scan images.
The finding could potentially shed light on why people who make high risk financial decisions, such as stock market players, sometimes develop anxiety disorders, says Mauricio Delgado at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey, US.
In the new study, Delgado and colleagues invited 15 student volunteers to play a gambling game on a computer that, unknown to them, always gave a positive win of $59.
They would then be told of either a $6 loss from their $59 sum, or that the amount they currently possessed would stay the same. Different coloured screens preceded the message.
In the next part of the experiment, rather than lose $6, the students received a mild electric shock to the wrist. Again, coloured screens preceded the outcome. The players soon learned which colour represented each outcome.
Brain scans conducted on the participants as they watched the screens showed the colours associated with the $6 loss or electric shock elicited a similar amount of activation in a brain region called the striatum. Researchers have previously linked activity in this region to fear of pain.