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Estimating the financial value of pain informs issues as diverse as the market price of analgesics, the cost-effectiveness of clinical treatments, compensation for injury, and the response to public hazards. Such valuations are assumed to reflect a stable trade-off between relief of discomfort and money. Here, using an auction-based health-market experiment, we show that the price people pay for relief of pain is strongly determined by the local context of the market, that is, by recent intensities of pain or immediately disposable income (but not overall wealth). The absence of a stable valuation metric suggests that the dynamic behavior of health markets is not predictable from the static behavior of individuals. We conclude that the results follow the dynamics of habit-formation models of economic theory, and thus, this study provides the first scientific basis for this type of preference modeling.

Original publication




Journal article


Psychological science

Publication Date





309 - 317


Department of Psychology, University College London, London, WC1H 0AP, United Kingdom.


Humans, Pain, Stress, Psychological, Socioeconomic Factors