Research Investigates How Money Effects on Thinking, Behavior

Exploring money priming effects.

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Research Investigates How Money Effects on Thinking, Behavior
Credit: Association for Psychological Science

Money can predispose people to engage in self-sufficient thinking and behavior. According to some studies, demographic characteristics may moderate this type of effect. In a new study, scientists systemically explore these money-priming effects.

In this study, scientists present results from three experiments. They found some inconsistent evidence for the money effects on various measures of self-sufficient thinking and behavior.

The idea came after conducting several studies in which they observed varied findings that were inconsistent with their predictions.

During initial studies, scientists found that the effects of money reminders on participants’ thinking often seemed to depend on certain demographic characteristics. While discussing it, they found some unpredicted interaction effects in their research in this area.

Eugene M. Caruso (University of Chicago Booth School of Business) said, “These inconsistent results led us to step back to try to gain a better understanding of whether different money primes lead to similar money effects, and whether they interact with sociodemographic characteristics in a reliable, and potentially theoretically meaningful, manner.”

To do so, scientists decided to systematically evaluate the effects of various money-priming manipulations on a predetermined set of outcomes while accounting for the potential influence of certain sociodemographic factors.

During the 1st experiment, they involved 2,167 participants for an online study. They then ask to receive specific primes. Some of they saw a faint image of $100 bills in the background, others were asked to select the best sizes and shapes for new paper currency. Some of them saw completed phrases that included money-related terms, while others were asked to imagine having ample access to money.

As results suggest, the four of the five money primes did activate the concept of money. The participants were more likely to complete word stems to create money-related words compared with participants who received a neutral prime or no prime. Those who exposed to the background image of money showed no difference in the word completion task relative to their peers.

Scientists reported the primes seemed to have weak and inconsistent effects on participants’ feelings of wealth and self-sufficiency. Only participants who imagined an abundant life reported differences in self-sufficiency. They actually reported lower self-sufficiency compared with those who received a neutral prime, an unexpected finding.

There was also a little evidence to suggest that the effects of the primes on various outcomes. They were moderated by any of the demographic characteristics measured, including gender, socioeconomic status, and political ideology.

During the 2nd experiment, scientists involved 2,150 participants that omitted the money-activation measure. Here, they observed similar results as compared to first.

In the 3rd experiment, scientists conducted a lab-based study with 332 members of the university community. They then analyzed the effects of money primes on self-sufficient behavior by measuring how long participants spent working on a puzzle that was actually unsolvable before they asked for help.

Only those participants who unscrambled phrases including money-related terms reported greater feelings of self-sufficiency relative to the comparison group.

Caruso said, “Contrary to what we expected based on the published literature, we did not find that any manipulation consistently affected any dependent measure across our three studies, nor did we find reliable evidence for statistical moderation by sociodemographic characteristics.”

This study was not designed to be exact replications of any one study. Rather, the series of experiments offer a rigorous and systematic examination of a particular effect.

Based on it, Caruso concluded, “Beyond the implications for money-priming research, we hope that our methodological approach—comparing multiple manipulations of a construct and assessing multiple individual-difference moderators within the same heterogeneous sample—can make a broader contribution by supplementing the emerging toolkit of methodologies for establishing the reliability of individual effects and the validity of the theories that attempt to explain them.”