Does Money Make us Independent, Indifferent, or Stingy?

A recently published behavioral study ties together nine experiments, each one designed to test the effect of money consciousness on some aspect of social behavior. Using random samples of students and non-students at three universities in different parts of the country, the experimenters divided their subjects into two groups. One group was “money primed,” subtly preconditioned to think about money. In a pre-experimental session, its members were asked, for example, to solve a word scramble puzzle with money references, examine a poster depicting different currencies, or read an essay that dealt with money. The other group was “neutrally primed.” In a similar pre-experimental session, its members were given similar tasks, but without the money references.

Once primed, the groups were given tasks or placed in staged situations that tested measurable subconscious behavior. The results, published as “The Psychological Consequences of Money” in Science Magazine, were consistent across the nine experiments. “Money primed” people, writes Kathleen Vohs, who did the study along with Nicole Mead and Miranda Goode, are “not mindful of other people,” not mean, but indifferent. Compared to the neutrally primed subjects, they were less willing to seek help and less willing to give it, less generous, and less likely to work with a peer rather than alone. The study’s authors see implications from the boardroom to the classroom for this demonstrated effect of money consciousness and make recommendations as to how to use the results.

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