When my children were young we used to play the game Monopoly. This was one of my son’s favorite games. And mine. It got to the point where no one would play with us anymore. We were too tough, too ruthless. The games would go on forever because neither he nor I would be willing to compromise or negotiate. “You’re getting mean” my daughter would complain. And it was true. I could feel myself acting differently. 

It turns out that my behavior was predictable. Kathleen Vohs, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota researches the effect that money has on people. She doesn’t even use actual money. It turns out that just the concept of money changes behavior.

In her research studies she gives people sentences to unscramble, some of which have money references, or she has them do tasks in a room where Monopoly money is on the table, or a picture of money is on a screen saver. Then she puts the participants into various situations, for example, someone walking through the room drops a box of pencils, or another (supposed) participant asks for help, or someone requests that the participant donate to a charity.

The findings are always the same. People who are "primed" with the idea of money ask for help less frequently, give help to others less often, donate less money, prefer to work or play alone, and put more physical space between themselves and others.

Dr. Voh concludes that the concept of money leads people to behave self-sufficiently. She defines self-sufficiency as a state where people work harder to attain personal goals, and prefer to be separate from other people.

If you want people to be self-sufficient, then prime them with the idea of, or pictures of, money. If you want people to be collaborative and help others, then avoid the mention of, or pictures of, money.

What do you think? Is money a good incentive to get people to do things or work harder? 


Science 314, 1154 (2006), 
Kathleen D. Vohs, et al.
The Psychological Consequences of Money

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