A series of experiments have shown that merely thinking about or looking at money changes the way people behave, causing them to be more selfish and self-sufficient.
Participants first re-arranged several jumbled lists of words to form sentences. Some participants were given word lists that led to neutral sentences (e.g. ‘it is cold outside’), whereas other participants were given words that led to money-related sentences (e.g. ‘a high-paying salary’). Next, they all attempted to solve a difficult geometric puzzle. Those participants who had completed the money-related sentences worked significantly longer on the puzzle before asking for help (average of 314 seconds), compared with the participants who’d completed neutral sentences (average of 186 seconds – no different from controls who didn’t complete the earlier sentence task).
In another experiment, participants were again primed with either the neutral or money-related descrambling task. Afterwards they sat alone in a room to complete some irrelevant questionnaires. They were soon joined by an assistant of the researchers who was pretending to be another research participant, confused by the questionnaires. The participants primed by the money-related sentences spent only half as much time helping the confused person compared with the participants who’d completed the neutral sentences.
Further experiments showed participants left with more money after a monopoly game helped pick up fewer pencils dropped by a passer-by; participants primed with money-related sentences gave less money to charity; and participants sat in front of a money-themed computer screen-saver chose to sit further away from a another participant they were due to chat with.
Kathleen Vohs and colleagues, who completed the research, said that because money allows people to achieve goals without help from others, tasks that reminded the participants of money led to feelings of self sufficiency, causing them to avoid dependency and to prefer that other people weren't dependent on them.
Vohs, K.D., Mead, N.L. & Goode, M.R. (2006). The psychological consequences of money. Science, 314, 1154-1156.
Link to further information on methodology.
But can money make you happy? See related Digest items, here and here.