From Our 2006 Archives
Money May Change How People Act
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Just Thinking About Money May Have an Effect, Study Shows
Nov. 16, 2006 -- Having money, or just thinking about money, may affect behavior, a study in Science shows.
"The mere presence of money changes people," says researcher Kathleen Vohs, PhD, in a University of Minnesota news release.
"The effect can be negative; it can be positive," says Vohs, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management.
Vohs' team studied nearly 300 undergraduates at the University of Minnesota and Canada's University of British Columbia.
In nine experiments, the researchers reminded some students about money.
For instance, some of those students received play money. Others sat in front of computers with money screen savers.
For comparison, other students didn't get any play money. They sat at computers with screen savers showing landscapes or other scenes without money.
In every test, students who received or were reminded of money were more self-sufficient than those who weren't given or reminded of money.
For example, the students in the money group worked longer by themselves on a task assigned by the researchers before asking for help.
But when asked to help someone with another project, those students didn't help as much as those who weren't exposed to money.
Students in the money groups also preferred to work and spend their leisure time alone.
"The results of nine experiments suggest that money brings about a self-sufficient orientation in which people prefer to be free of dependency and dependents," write the researchers.
They note that "the self-sufficient pattern helps explain why people view money as both the greatest good and evil."
The researchers aren't saying that everyone reacts the same way to money. The experiments were short and simpler than real life.
But if the findings are correct, it may mean that money affects communities, the researchers note.
"As countries and cultures developed, money may have allowed people to acquire goods and services that enabled the pursuit of cherished goals, which in turn diminished reliance on friends and family," Voh's team writes.
"In this way, money enhanced individualism but diminished communal motivations, an effect that is still apparent in people's responses to money today," the researchers continue.
A journal editorial notes that "money is a very large fact in the lives of everyone who lives in a modern economy" and that "the way we respond to that fact makes a difference in our lives."
Vohs' study shows that "merely thinking about money can push people into a narrowly individualistic frame of mind," write the editorialists.
They included Carole Burgoyne, PhD, of the School of Psychology at England's University of Exeter.
SOURCES: Vohs, K. Science, Nov. 17, 2006; vol 314: pp 1154-1156. Burgoyne, C. Science, Nov. 17, 2006; vol 314: pp 1091-1092. News release, University of Minnesota. News release, Science.
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