Character  &  Context

The Science of Who We Are and How We Relate
Editors: Mark Leary, Shira Gabriel, Brett Pelham
Apr 01, 2015

The Effect of Money on Your Emotions

$100 bills flying in the air
“There is no culture on Earth that has found money and then decided not to use it…Money is a useful tool to facilitate human connection and advancement,” said Kathleen Vohs at the beginning of a symposium at SPSP’s 16th Annual Convention.
Money holds a very powerful sway over an individual’s emotions, personality and decisions. And it can influence the decisions of young children more than we realize.
“If I asked for a show of hands on who like the rich, I don’t expect to see a lot of hands go up in the room. Less than one-third of adults say they like they rich,” said Suzanne Horowitz.
But children answer differently, Horowitz explained. There has been a lot of research that children as young as 4 years old show preference for those with greater wealth. So what happens as we get older? One explanation is that children’s attitudes are at the implicit level, and adult’s are at the explicit level.
Horowitz and colleagues looked at evaluations of the rich and poor relative to the middle class. Most participants in the study self-identified as middle-class.
At the explicit level, participants overwhelmingly preferred the middle class over the poor, and the middle class over the rich. But at the implicit level (measured by IATs), participants preferred the rich over the middle class.
In a second study, the researchers gave participants a car accident scenario where a driver was texting or doing something that would put them at fault for the accident. Participants then had to say how much blame they placed on the driver for the accident. Participants reported that they were more lenient on the rich driver at an implicit level. Explicit attitudes also did not predict blame because “it’s driven by a bias that people aren’t even aware they have,” said Horowitz.
So then, how do people feel about the wealth they have?
“There’s this phenomenon across the country of people who help individuals in a field called wealth psychology. Their objective is to help people with sudden wealth syndrome,” said Paul Piff.
Sudden wealth syndrome is identified as excessive guilt for something an individual doesn’t believe they’re entitled to. The idea of wealth guilt is in stark contrast to the general stereotypes of wealthy individuals, where wealth causes an increase in entitlement and deservingness.  But if an individual feels they are not entitled to something, often they feel guilt for whatever it is they received.
According to Piff, wealth guilt doesn’t correlate with the amount of money the individual has, and is not associated with gender or ethnicity. It is empirically distinct from other types of guilt.
Individuals that experience wealth guilt are more likely to hide the fact they are wealthy. A book titled “Classified: How to Stop Hiding Your Privilege and Use It for Social Change!” includes a list of the top 10 things you can do to hide your wealth, and suggests behaviors like ordering water when you’re out at a restaurant, or lying about the number of homes you have. The researchers used that list to generate a checklist and asked participants to report how many of these behaviors they’ve engaged in over the last year. The checklist assisted researchers in pinpointing which study participants are high in wealth guilt.
In one study, participants were asked about their preference for generic goods or brand products. Individuals high and low in wealth guilt showed no differences in preference for generic goods. But individuals high in wealth guilt indicated they would use a brand product less frequently than those low in wealth guilt. In another study, individuals high in wealth guilt were also found to be less likely to own a vehicle that would be identified as a luxury brand.
Does money make us less generous?
Agata Gasiorowska and colleagues studied the effect money has on generosity.  Gasiorowska began with explaining the two different modes we tend to operate in: communal mode, and market mode. Communal mode, she explained, concentrates on benefitting someone without requiring repayment; we benefit others to show concern, usually toward family and close friends. Communal mode is identified by certain behaviors, such as helping and generosity.
“When we are in market mode we are in an exchange relationship. We are offering or accepting a benefit with the expectation of comparable return,” explained Agata Gasiorowska. Market mode is more typical of a business relationship.
The researchers measured helpfulness as a communal behavior and task performance as a market behavior. According to the researchers, activating one mode should produce behaviors consistent with it and impair incongruent behaviors. Five studies tested 425 children, each individually. Children were between the ages of 3 and 6 living in the U.S., a highly capitalistic nation, and Poland, a former communist one.
Children reminded of money, compared to other objects, were less generous to peers; were less helpful; more often ignored authorities’ requests; and took more rewards. They also worked longer and harder and were more successful at difficult tasks. The patterns observed by the researchers replicate those of adults’ and reveal that children start to learn market behaviors from an early age.

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Why is this blog called Character & Context?

Everything that people think, feel, and do is affected by some combination of their personal characteristics and features of the social context they are in at the time. Character & Context explores the latest insights about human behavior from research in personality and social psychology, the scientific field that studies the causes of everyday behaviors.  

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