U study links money and self-reliance

A University study found the concept of money sparks self-sufficiency and diligence.

Vincent Staupe

Playing Monopoly with coworkers might not be the best idea, according to a new study published by a University psychologist.

The study, published in the Nov. 17 issue of Science, revealed that people who are exposed to the concept of money become more self-reliant and less helpful to others.

Study co-author Kathleen Vohs, a Carlson School of Management professor, said the concept of money sparks self-sufficiency.

“One thing that is important is that now we can understand that money can be a motivator for self-sufficiency,” Vohs said, adding that self-sufficiency can be viewed in different ways.

The study looked at how participants responded when exposed to the concept of money. Exposure methods included leaving play money on a table and displaying an image of currency on a wall.

People exposed to money tended to wait longer to ask for help when performing an assigned task than those who were not exposed.

“People who are reminded of money are diligent and engage in more dogged pursuits of their goals,” Vohs said.

In one experiment, subjects were told to fill out a survey while being peripherally exposed to a currency-themed screensaver.

The experimenter then told the subject to pull together several chairs in preparation for getting acquainted with someone new.

People exposed to the screensaver tended to set their chairs farther apart from others compared to those who weren’t exposed to the currency stimulus, according to Miranda Goode, co-author of the study and doctoral student at the University of British Columbia’s business school.

“Self-sufficiency is a mixed bag,” Goode said. “It’s positive and negative in certain situations.”

Vohs said she conceived of the idea for the study in late 2004. She added that she was “aided considerably” by two graduate students.

Florida State University graduate student and co-author Nicole Mead said she helped design and run several of the experiments. The strength of the results startled the co-authors, Mead said.

“I guess we were somewhat surprised at how consistently we found these strong effects with just minor influences, like putting Monopoly money in someone’s periphery,” she said.

There wasn’t necessarily a difference between whether the subject was exposed to real currency or play money, Mead said.

“Monopoly money connotes the concept of money,” she said. “On its own, money is meaningless, so even mentioning the word ‘money’ will activate this concept in our brain that has myriad associations with it.”

Ultimately, Vohs said, the study illustrates that in certain cases, money can be a decent motivator.

“People who are exposed to money don’t want to depend on others, but they don’t want others to depend on them,” Vohs said.

She said the study is a breakthrough in her field of psychology and marketing.

“The study had never been done before in this way,” Vohs said. “And it became glaringly apparent that we’d missed an opportunity to really understand the psychological consequences of money.”