In 1952, Mary Norton published a children’s book called The Borrowers. The story follows a family of tiny people living in homes in England, “borrowing” from their larger neighbors in order to survive. Complicated relationships between the Borrowers and the humans with which they live form the main points of the plot.

About 60 years later, a different Norton wrote about a different kind of borrower.

Michael Norton, a Harvard Business School professor, conducted research on how borrowing money negatively affects relationships. Norton visited BPR to explain that the rules of a loan aren't usually the same for the borrower and the lender, which can cause friction in a relationship.

Specifically, the borrower treats the money as though it’s his or hers, while the lender feels ownership over that money, even after it's been loaned out.

“When you lend money to people, they get the money and think, ‘We’re done...’ said Norton. “You as the lender strongly disagree with that, and you believe that you should, in a way, have sort of a veto power.”

He explained that a lender’s feelings about the borrowed money depend on what is bought. When purchases contribute to leisure as opposed to necessities, the lender is more likely to feel slighted.

“You don’t mind it so much if they buy boring stuff with the money, like textbooks, but it really bugs you if they buy music or go to the movies or something like that,” said Norton. “When we lend people money, we are monitoring everything they do after that to make sure that they’re using it in the way that we would want.”

Norton also noted that the psychology behind this tendency to monitor borrowed money applies beyond individual relationships. He pointed to bank bailouts, saying that people feel very attached to their tax dollars.

Getting paid back doesn’t make lenders feel better either. If the money was spent on something that wasn’t serious, bad feelings will persist past the return of a loan.

“Even though now they’ve financially made you whole, emotionally and psychologically, you’re not even close to being back to where you were,” said Norton.

To hear Michael Norton's interview in its entirety, listen to the audio link above.