, 1154 (2006);
et al. Kathleen D. Vohs,
The Psychological Consequences of Money
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on November 17, 2006
The Psychological Consequences
Kathleen D. Vohs,1* Nicole L. Mead,2Miranda R. Goode3
Money has been said to change people’s motivation (mainly for the better) and their behavior
toward others (mainly for the worse). 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.
Reminders of money, relative to nonmoney reminders, led to reduced requests for help and
reduced helpfulness toward others. Relative to participants primed with neutral concepts,
participants primed with money preferred to play alone, work alone, and put more physical
distance between themselves and a new acquaintance
insofar as people want money inorder totrade it
for prized goods or services (1, 2). Others, how-
ever, have deplored money for undermining in-
terpersonal harmony (3). We propose that both
outcomes emerge from the sameunderlying pro-
cess: Money makes people feel self-sufficient
and behave accordingly.
In this Report, “money” refers to a distinct
entity, a particular economic concept. Consistent
term money to represent the idea of money, not
property or possessions. Our research activates the
concept of money through the use of mental prim-
ing techniques, which heighten the accessibility of
conscious awareness. Thus, priming acts as a
nonconscious reminder of the concept of money.
We tested whether activating the concept of
money leads people to behave self-sufficiently,
which we define as an insulated state wherein
people put forth effort to attain personal goals and
prefer to be separate from others. The term as we
define it does not imply a value judgment and
encompasses a mixture of desirable and un-
desirable qualities, which may help explain the
positive and negative consequences of money (4).
The self-sufficiency hypothesis encapsulates
findings fromextantresearchon money.If money
brings about a state of self-sufficiency, then a lack
of money should make people feel ineffectual.
illness after financial strain due to job loss is
al control (5). A recent theory by Lea and Webley
(1), which characterizes money as both a tool and a
drug, emphasizes that people value money for its
instrumentality: Money enables people to achieve
goals without aid from others. Therefore, we
predicted that reminders of money would lead to
eople long have debated the effects of
have pointed to its role as an incentive,
changes in behavior that suggest a feeling of self-
sufficiency. When reminded of money, people
would want to be free from dependency and would
also prefer that others not depend on them.
In Experiment 1, participants were randomly
assigned to three conditions. Intwo conditions(play
money and money prime), participants were re-
minded of money; control participants were not
reminded of money (6). All participants first com-
pleted a descrambling task (7), which activated neu-
tral concepts (control and play money) or money
(money prime). The descrambling task consisted of
30 sets of five jumbled words. Participants created
sensible phrases using four of the five words. In the
control and play-money conditions, the phrases
primed neutral concepts (e.g., “cold it desk outside
condition, 15 of the phrases primed the concept of
money(e.g., “high asalarydeskpaying” became“a
neutral phrases (6). Participants in the play-money
condition were primed with money by a stack of
Monopoly money in their visual periphery while
completing the neutral descrambling task.
Next, participants were given a difficult but
solvable problem that involved arranging 12
disks into a square with five disks per side. As
assistance. Persistence on the problem before
asking for help was the dependent measure (8).
As predicted, participants who were reminded
of money (play money and money prime) worked
longer than control participants before requesting
help [F(2,49) = 3.73, P < 0.04; mean (M) money
prime = 314.06 s, SD = 172.79; M play money =
118.09]. The two money conditions did not differ
from each other [t(49) < 1], but each was
significantly different from the control group
[money prime versus control: t(49) = 2.44, P <
0.02; Cohen’s d = 0.86; play money versus
control: t(49) = 2.30, P < 0.03; Cohen’s d =
0.84]. Percentages of participants who requested
help are shown in Fig. 1A.
In Experiment 2, we made two key changes
to increase the generalizability of the findings of
Experiment 1. First, we equated status differences
between the would-be helper and the participant to
ensure that differences in requests for help in Ex-
periment1 werenotdue todifferentialsensitivity to
was to the manipulation of the money prime. We
hypothesized that money primes are unlikely to
activate the idea of meager finances – rather,
monetary wealth is probably what is activated.This
meager finances will not lead to the same effects as
reminders of financial affluence, which we tested
systematically in Experiment 2.
Participants were randomly assigned between
of an abundance of money (high money) and the
other activated the idea of restricted amount of
essay in front of a video camera. Participants in the
high-money condition read about growing up
having abundant financial resources, whereas low-
money participants read about growing up having
meager resources. Afterward, all participants were
given the opportunity to ask for help.
on an impossible task before asking for help. The
participant’s job was to outline all segments of a
to participants, the figure was unsolvable. After 2
min of working alone, the experimenter and a
confederate (who was blind to the participant’s
1Department of Marketing, Carlson School of Management,
University of Minnesota, 3-150 321 19th Avenue South,
Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA.2Department of Psychology,
Florida State University, Tallahasse, FL 32306–4301, USA.
3Marketing Division, Sauder School of Business, University of
British Columbia, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2, Canada.
*To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail:
Fig. 1. Percentage of participants who asked
for help as a function of money prime and
length of time that had elapsed while working
on (A) a difficult task (from Experiment 1) or
(B) an unsolvable task (from Experiment 2).
17 NOVEMBER 2006VOL 314
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that the confederate was another participant who
had just completed this experiment and therefore
could be asked for help, if needed.
Results indicated that participants in the
than participants in the low-money condition
before asking for help [t(35) = 2.03, P = 0.05;
Cohen’s d = 0.65; M high money = 1058.48 s,
SD = 210.12; M low money = 876.63 s, SD =
334.42]. Percentages of participants asking for
help are shown in Fig. 1B. Thus, the effects of
money did not depend on relative status differ-
ences between the participant and the helper.
value self-sufficiency would be less helpful than
others because they expect that each person will
take care of him- or herself. Hence, we expected
that participants primed with money would
volunteer less time relative to control participants.
conditions, one that primed money and one with
the money and neutral (control condition) de-
scramble tasks from Experiment 1.
After the priming task, the experimenter
explained that she was an undergraduate who
was looking for help coding data and asked
whether the participant would be able to help
(9). She explained that each data sheet takes ap-
alone to indicate how many data sheets, if any,
they would be willing to code and also to pro-
vide their contact information.
Participants in the money condition volun-
teered to help code fewer data sheets than did
participants in the control condition [t(37) = 2.06,
P < 0.05; Cohen’s d = 0.66] (Table 1). Translated
an average of 42.5 min of their time, whereas
participants in the money condition volunteered
only slightly more than half that much (~25 min).
Experiment 3 showed that participants primed
with money offered less help to the experimenter
in the future, the experimenter suggested that she
was not in dire straits (in which case, she likely
condition participants may have failed to realize
that help was truly needed. Accordingly, it was
important to move beyond promises of help to
measuring real helping behavior.
In Experiment 4, two between-subject con-
ditions were used to prime money or neutral
concepts. Each participant completed the de-
scramble tasks (from Experiment 1). Next, the
participant was left alone to complete irrelevant
questionnaires. Meanwhile, the experimenter re-
entered with a confederate (who was blind to the
participant’s priming condition) and introduced her
as another participant. The experimenter explained
that there was no space in the laboratory and
the confederate asked the participant to explain the
not understand what to do. Time spent helping the
confederate was the measure of helping.
Participants who were primed with money
were less helpful than participants not primed
with money [t(42) = 2.13, P < 0.04; Cohen’s d =
0.63]. The data showed that participants primed
with money spent half as much time helping the
confused confederate as did participants in the
control condition (Table 1). Apparently, partic-
ipants who were primed with money believed
thatthe confederate should figure out on her own
how to perform the task, as a self-sufficient
person would do.
In Experiment 5, we wanted to give money-
primed participants a helping opportunity that
required no skill or expertise, given that the help
thatwasneeded inthe twopreviousexperiments
may have been perceived as requiring knowl-
edge or special skill to enact. The opportunity to
help in the current experiment was quite easy
and obvious, in that it involved helping a person
who spilled a box of pencils.
Participants were randomly assigned to one of
Each participant first played the board game
Monopoly with a confederate (who was blind to
the participant’s condition) posing as another
participant. After 7 min, the game was cleared
except for differing amounts of play money.
Participants in the high-money condition were
left with $4000, which is a large amount of
Monopolymoney.Participants in the low-money
conditionwere left with $200.Control condition
participants were left with no money. For high-
and low-money participants, the play money
remained in view for the second part of the ma-
nipulation. At this step, participants were asked
toimagine a futurewithabundantfinances(high
money), with strained finances (low money), or
their plans for tomorrow (control).
Next, a staged accident provided the oppor-
to the participant’s priming condition) walked
across the laboratory holding a folder of papers
and a box of pencils, and spilled the pencils in
front of the participant. The number of pencils
picked up (out of 27 total) was the measure of
As predicted, the money prime influenced
[t(32) = 2.75, P < 0.02; Cohen’s d = 0.81] or
those in the control condition [t(32) = 2.13, P <
0.05; Cohen’s d = 1.23] (Table 1). Helpfulness
did not differ between the low-money group and
the control group [t < 1, not significant). Even
though gathering pencils was an action that all
participants could perform, participants reminded
of financial wealth were unhelpful.
of money by operationalizing helpfulness as
monetary donations. Upon arrival to the laboratory,
participants were given $2 in quarters in exchange
in actuality, giving participants quarters ensured
that they had money to donate (9).
Participants were randomly assigned to one
of two conditions, in which they descrambled
or neutral concepts. Then participants completed
some filler questionnaires, after which the exper-
imenter told them that the experiment was
finished and gave them a false debriefing. This
step was done so that participants would not
connect the donation opportunity to the experi-
ment. As the experimenter exited the room, she
mentioned that the lab was taking donations for
the University Student Fund and that there was a
box by the door if the participant wished to
donate. Amount of money donated was the mea-
sure of helping. We found that Participants
primed with money donated significantly less
money to the student fund than participants not
primed with money [t(38) = 2.13, P < 0.05;
Cohen’s d = 0.64] (Table 1).
To convincingly demonstrate that money
makes people self-sufficient, we tested the
hypothesis innewcontexts.The final experiments
tested the effects of money on social intimacy,
desire to engage in leisure activities alone, and
preference to work alone. In Experiment 7,
Table 1. Helpfulness as a function of experimental condition in Experiments (Exp.) 3 to 6. The data
are means ± SD; higher numbers indicate greater helpfulness. Within each experiment, means from
the money and no-money conditions are different from each other at P < 0.05.
No-money condition Dependent variable
3 5.10 ± 3.998.47 ± 5.99 Number of data sheets
Time spent helping a peer
Number of pencils gathered
4 67.35 ± 84.65 147.81 ± 158.15
5 18.00 ± 1.96 20.30 ± 1.77
19.72 ± 2.28
1.34 ± 1.026 0.77 ± 0.74 Monetary donations (in $)
VOL 31417 NOVEMBER 2006
on November 17, 2006
participants were randomly assigned to one of Download full-text
three priming conditions. Participants sat in front
of a computer while completing questionnaires.
After 6 min, one of three screensavers appeared.
Participants in the money condition saw a screen-
floating underwater (fig. S1). Participants in the
fish condition saw a screensaver with fish
swimming underwater (fig. S2). Participants in
the no-screensaver condition saw a blank screen.
Afterwards, participants were told they would
be having a get-acquainted conversation with
another participant. Participants were asked to
move two chairs together while the experimenter
Participants primed with money placed the
two chairs farther apart than did participants in
the fish condition [t(33) = 2.37, P < 0.05;
Cohen’s d = 1.07] and the no-screensaver
condition [t(33) = 2.30, P < 0.05; Cohen’s d =
0.85] (Table 2). Chair distance did not differ
between fish and blank screensaver conditions
[t(33) < 1, not significant]. Hence, participants
primed with money put more physical distance
between themselves and a new acquaintance
than participants not primed with money.
In Experiment 8, we tested whether money-
primed participants would place a premium on
being alone even when choosing leisure activ-
ities that could be enjoyed with friends and
family. Participants were randomly assigned to
one of three priming conditions. Participants
first sat at a desk, which faced one of three post-
ers, to complete filler questionnaires. In the
money condition, the desk faced a poster show-
ing a photograph of various denominations of
currency (fig. S3). In two control conditions, the
desk faced a poster showing either a seascape or
a flower garden (figs. S4 and S5).
a nine-item questionnaire that asked them to
choose between two activities. Within each item,
could enjoy and the other option was for two
people or more (e.g., an in-home catered dinner
for four versus four personal cooking lessons).
Participants primed with money chose more
individually focused leisure experiences than
primes [F(2, 58) = 4.04, P < 0.05;money versus
seascape: t(58) = 2.75, P < 0.05; Cohen’s d =
0.59; money versus flowers: t(58) = 2.10, P <
0.05; Cohen’s d = 1.06] (Table 2). The choice of
activities did not differ between neutral con-
ditions [t(58) < 1, not significant]. Thus, money
primes lead people to be less social relative to
those in nonmoney prime conditions.
In Experiment 9, a more rigorous test of the
self-sufficiency hypothesis was tested: We asked
whether people reminded of money would choose
presumably means less work for each person, but
the co-worker may prefer to rely on the participant,
which would be an affront to self-sufficiency.
Participants were given the option of working on
a project with a peer or alone. Participants were
randomly assigned to three priming conditions. As
in Experiment 7, screensavers showing money,
fish, or no screensaver primed money or non-
money concepts. Participants were then told that
their next task was an advertisement develop-
ment task on which they could work alone or
with a peer. Participants were left alone to in-
dicate their choice.
Participants’ desire to work with a peer
was significantly affected by priming condition
[X2(2, n = 37) = 10.10, P < 0.01] (Table 2).
reduced among money condition participants rela-
tive toparticipantsinboththe fish [X2(1) = 7.00,
P < 0.05; odds ratio = 11.25] and no-screensaver
conditions [X2(1) = 8.22, P < 0.05; odds ratio =
15.00]. There was no difference in choice be-
tween the fish and no-screensaver conditions
[t(34) < 1, P > 0.05, not significant].
Nine experiments provided support for the
hypothesis that money brings about a state of self-
sufficiency. Relative to people not reminded of
money, people reminded of money reliably per-
formed independent but socially insensitive actions.
The magnitude (11) of these effects is notable and
somewhat surprising, given that our participants
were highly familiar with money (12) and that our
manipulations were minor environmental changes
or small tasks for participants to complete.
Research on the repercussions of studying
economics dovetails nicely with our results.
Frank, Gilovich, and Regan (13) reported that
universitystudentsmajoring ineconomics made
self-interested moves in social dilemma games
more often than students of other disciplines.
Economics students also were more convinced
than noneconomists that their competitors
would make self-interested moves, a result that
echoes the present thesis that money evokes a
view that everyone fends for him- or herself.
The self-sufficient pattern helps explain why
people view money as both the greatest good
and evil. 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 re-
liance on friends and family. In this way, money
nal motivations, an effect that is still apparent in
people’s responses to money today.
References and Notes
1. S. E. G. Lea, P. Webley, Behav. Brain Sci. 29, 161 (2006).
2. A. Furnham, M. Argyle, The Psychology of Money
(Routledge, London, 1998).
3. P. R. Amato, S. J. Rogers, J. Marriage Fam. 59, 612 (1997).
4. The term self-sufficiency has been used in the
psychological literature in two ways. One use (typically in
research on recovery after injury) connotes a positive
meaning of being free from needing others in order to
effectively perform a task. The second use (typically in
psychotherapy writings) takes on a discernibly negative
meaning. Self-sufficiency in this case is considered a
barrier to intimacy and is often seen in narcissistic
personality disorders. Our use of the term incorporates
both interpretations. We use self-sufficiency in part to
suggest the autonomous agent who competently works
toward personal goals, as well as the socially insensitive
narcissist. We use the term not to suggest a stable trait
(as in previous writings) but rather to signify a transitory
psychological state brought on by reminders of money.
5. R. H. Price, J. N. Choi, A. D. Vinokur, J. Occup. Health
Psychol. 7, 302 (2002).
6. Materials and methods are available as supporting
material on Science Online.
8. R. S. Schwab, in Fatigue, W. F. Floyd, A. T. Welford, Eds.
(Lewis, London, 1953), pp. 143–48.
9. J.M.Twenge,R. F.Baumeister,C.N.DeWall,N.J.Ciarocco,
J. M. Bartels, J. Pers. Soc. Psychol., in press.
10. C. N. Macrae, G. V. Bodenhausen, A. B. Milne, J. Jetten,
J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 67, 808 (1994).
11. J. Cohen, Psychol. Bull. 112, 155 (1992).
12. The majority of the participants in our experiments
were raised in Canada, the United States, China, and
Hong Kong (in decreasing order of prevalence).
13. R. H. Frank, T. Gilovich, D. T. Regan, Ethol. Sociol. 14,
14. This work benefited from financial support from the Social
Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Canada
Research Chair Council, both to K.V. We thank research
assistants A. Boyce, R. Chan, L. Chen, A. Connolly, S. Curtis,
V. Ding, S. Gonzalez, A. Kaikati, S. Sartain, J. Suydam,
A. Talbot, and N. Van Den Berg.
Supporting Online Material
Materials and Methods
Figs. S1 to S5
14 July 2006; accepted 18 September 2006
Table 2. SocialdistancepreferencesasafunctionofexperimentalconditioninExperiments(Exp.)7to9.
represents the no-screensaver condition. In Experiment 8, the neutral 1 condition represents the flower
the money condition differ from means in both neutral conditions at P < 0.05.
7 118.44 ± 41.63 79.48 ± 30.4380.54 ± 47.06Physical distance between
participant and partner
Number of solitary
Proportion of participants
who opted to work alone
84.00 ± 1.202.82 ± 1.003.10 ± 1.80
90.83 ± 0.39 0.31 ± 0.480.25 ± 0.45
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