What Research Says About Money Making us Mean and What We Can Do About It

Can money really change who you are as a person? This week, we explore ground breaking research that indirectly suggests so. Research by Kathleen Vohs, (Univ of Minnesota), Nicole Mead (Florida State Univ) and Miranda  Goode (Univ of British Columbia) has brought scientific backing to a much loved folklore of the not-so-wealthy – money makes you mean. But, unfortunately (for the folklore lovers), the research also found that activating the idea of money may also make you more hardworking!

The Thought Process

The researchers sought to see the impact of money on people’s psyche. They contented that though the effects of money have been seen and researched in most other sphere of life, very little research has looked into how people’s thoughts and actions are shaped by money. They suggested that since money has become the staple form for exchange of goods, just the idea of money should lead to an activation of a more materialistic outlook of the world. They wanted to test two hypotheses.

First-  reminding people of the concept of money would encourage a person to put in more effort into their task. Second- reminding people of money would make them less sensitive to the needs of others as opposed to when there was no reminder of money.

What they did 

The scientists used 4 ways for testing their hypotheses.

  1. All participants played monopoly and then moved onto another task. One group (high-money) got $4,000, the low-money group got $200 and the control group (where nothing happens) got nothing.
  2. Participants were asked to think of life with lots of or very little money.
  3. Participants were told to organize phrases that were either related to money or those that weren’t. The example that the authors give is-  “I checked cash” (money phrase) or “I wrote a letter” (not money phrase)
  4. Whether participants were sitting near images of cash or of other random images.

In the Monopoly setting – When participants were taken to another room for another task after playing Monopoly and being given Money, a woman (who was a part of the experiment, called confederate) purposely spilled 27 pencils. Those who had received the most money after monopoly were less helpful than those who had received less money or no money at all.

In the experiment where participants had to organize phrases, participants who had not been reminded of money, spent 120% more time in helping out another lab confederate than those who had been reminded of money. The authors of the study followed up with five additional experiments. Three experiments tested the impact of reminders of money on social contact and the other two looked at work related behavior. The authors found extremely interesting results.

What they found 

Small reminders of money had a large impact on people’s behavior. Reminding people of money made them work harder, be more selfish, and prefer more isolation.

What we can do about it?

Even though how we get reminded of money isn’t necessarily in our control, how we react and behave is something we can train towards.

  1. Be conscious of your own thoughts when you see reminders of money or read about someone with money.
  2. Understand that money is first a necessity and then a luxury.
  3. Try to keep things in perspective – richer does not mean better.

Well, those are some things to think about when you receive your next paycheck. I’ll be back with more research, soon.

Till then, keep learning!

The Paper-

Vohs, K. D., Mead, N. L., & Goode, M. R. (2008). Merely Activating the Concept of Money Changes Personal and Interpersonal Behavior. Current Directions in Psychological Science Current Directions in           Psychological Science, 17(3), 208-212. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8721.2008.00576.x