Sad hungry money

Money makes you hungry. But for what?

In an experiment, always my favourite 3 words to start a sentence, one group of volunteers each counted a pile of rectangular pieces of paper and reported the number they had counted.

Another group counted a similarly sized pile of paper, except the paper they were handling was money, dollar bills.

Both groups were then given chocolate beans to taste and test. (I’m saying chocolate beans, but really Smarties. M&Ms, if you’re American). They then completed a questionnaire on how chocolately, crispy, tasty etc the chocolate beans were.

Now for the clever bit.

The clever bit.

The chocolate beans were counted by the psychologists afterwards, they found that the people who counted pieces of paper ate enough to answer the questions on the questionnaire.
But the people who had handled money ate 50% more of the chocolate beans than the people who had only counted paper. In other words, they ate enough to answer the questionnaire, and then some more for some other reason.

This is called “priming”. You really should click on that link, as I’m not going to laboriously re-explain it here. Go on, come back when you’ve at least glanced at it.

Priming people with the idea of money purely by touching it, subconsciously puts concepts associated with money in their head. Self-worth becomes “because I’m worth it” and hey presto you eat 50% more Smarties. Or M&Ms (WHICH TASTE OF SICK! What IS it with American chocolate?)

Money makes you callous
In an experiment (yay!) volunteers put their hand in iced water until they couldn’t stand the pain any longer. Those people who had touched money prior to this had their hand in ice for twice as long as those who hadn’t. Why the super-power? Some studies say it is because you use money is a proxy for social acceptance, so being primed with the idea of money is a buffer for pain. “I don’t care, I’m rich!“?

Money makes you help people less.
In an experiment some people did a pointless task involving either handling money or paper, as in the Smarties experiment. Then the real experiment started, they were sent out the room to go elsewhere and they walk past someone carrying a large pile of papers that they are trying to keep from dropping as they walk past. This person is a stooge, part of the experiment. They appear to drop the paper.

What do the money handlers do? They walk past without helping twice as often as others. It is thought touching the money primed them with the concept of “self reliance” that made them think and therefore act more individualistically.

Money makes you consume more greedily and enjoy less
In an experiment participants exposed to a reminder of wealth spent less time savoring a piece of chocolate, gulping it down and exhibiting less visible signs of enjoying it compared with participants not exposed to wealth. The experiment showed that perhaps having access to the best things in life may actually undercut people’s ability to reap enjoyment from life’s small pleasures.

Money isn’t magic. The ideas that people get from touching it come from our heads, which came from other people’s heads. These experiments show that in our society the idea of money makes people:

  • more greedy (the Smarties experiment)
  • less sensitive (the ice experiment)
  • less caring for others (dropping the papers experiment)
  • consume more and enjoy less (the 2nd chocolate experiment)

And this is just the idea of money! Imagine what happens when you bring actual money into the work, by paying bonuses or performance related pay? No need to imagine, all the studies show it makes people perform worse at work as it distorts purpose, removing any intrinsic motivation and replacing it with simple carrots and sticks.

Everyone needs money because everyone needs food and housing, just don’t flash it around, take it off the table by paying people enough to forget about it when they come to work.

I listen to money singing. It’s like looking down
From long french windows at a provincial town,
The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad
In the evening sun. It is intensely sad.

Philip Larkin,”Money”

This entry was posted in all wrong, psychology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Sad hungry money

  1. Olli Helttula says:

    Great post and an enjoyable read.

    On the downside, this really makes me sad. This flies directly into the face of all incentive and pay for performance programs, yet it seems that for most companies the struggle is to find better incentive programs – not rethink the whole concept.



  2. cashzilla says:

    Reblogged this on cashzilla.


  3. Bob says:

    I’d be interested to know the ‘cash state’ of the subjects used in this research.

    How would a group of people react that already had comfortable cashflow, less receptive but still greedy? These reactions all sound inline with people that come into money, but would they plateau at some point and readdress.

    I don’t have the money btw…. so I’d like to assume a natural balance would return if it does come my way!


  4. lucasolari says:

    Reblogged this on Corporate Sensemaker and commented:
    A wonderful example of sensemaking!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s