Research Suggests That Having Money Makes People Act Less Human

Via New York Magazine, money is all around us, yet, until recently, there has been little study of its psychological effect on humans. The results are now coming in, and they’re not good:

Earlier this year, [psychologist Paul] Piff, who is 30, published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that made him semi-famous. Titled “Higher Social Class Predicts Increased Unethical Behavior,” it showed through quizzes, online games, questionnaires, in-lab manipulations, and field studies that living high on the socioeconomic ladder can make people less ethical, more selfish, more insular, and less compassionate than other people. It can make them more likely, as Piff demonstrated in one of his experiments, to take candy from a bowl of sweets designated for children.

Piff is one of a new generation of scientists—psychologists, economists, marketing professors, and neurobiologists—who are exploiting this moment of unprecedented income inequality to explore behaviors like those. Their field is less than ten years old, and its conclusions are thus “incomplete,” says John Dovidio, a social psychologist at Yale. Money has a million symbolic meanings and reflects as many human yearnings; wanting it, getting it, having it, using it, and abusing it are entirely different impulses with entirely different effects on personality, behavior, and interpersonal relationships, and no single researcher has yet captured all of that nuance. But in a country that likes to think that class doesn’t matter, these social scientists are beginning to prove just how determinative money is.

Over and over, [professor Kathleen] Vohs has found that money can make people antisocial. She primes subjects by seating them near a screen-saver showing currency floating like fish in a tank or [showing them] words like ‘bill’, ‘check’, or ‘cash’. Then she tests their sensitivity to other people. In her Science article, Vohs showed that money-primed subjects gave less time to a colleague in need of assistance and less money to a hypothetical charity. When asked to pull up a chair so a stranger might join a meeting, money-primed subjects placed the chair at a greater distance from themselves than those in a control group. Vohs even found that money-primed people described feeling less emotional and physical pain: They can keep their hand under burning-hot water longer and feel less emotional distress when excluded from a ball-tossing game.

This in turn raises the ancient conundrum of chicken and egg. If getting or having money can make you hard-hearted, do you also have to be hard-hearted to become well-off in the first place? The bulk of the new research points decisively in the direction of the former, says Kraus, who now works at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. “Just the idea of holding money can make people selfish.”

40 Comments on "Research Suggests That Having Money Makes People Act Less Human"

  1. Liam_McGonagle | Jul 12, 2012 at 11:51 am |

    Any commitment to an abstraction is likely to weaken a person’s social engagement.

  2. One Percenter | Jul 12, 2012 at 11:52 am |

    I guess OWS can pack-up and go home then. 

  3. Homo sapiens showed up about 200,000 years ago, give or take.

    Somehow they survived most of their existence without the bizarre abstraction we know as money.

    There’s an old movie called THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY, set in the Kalahari. A bush pilot throws an empty Coke bottle out of his plane. It lands in the middle of a bunch of startled Bushmen, who think it’s a gift from God.

    Pretty soon everyone in the tribe covets the empty Coke bottle and fights break out as they try to hog the bottle for themselves. Bad ju-ju ensues.

    Every time I hear about the latest greedy escapade of some corporate cunt, I’m reminded of those Bushmen who let a goddamned empty Coke bottle take their sanity and humanity.

  4. Anarchy Pony | Jul 12, 2012 at 1:21 pm |

    Science confirms the obvious. Film at eleven.

  5. Hadrian999 | Jul 12, 2012 at 4:00 pm |

     having money makes you a target, people you thought were friends try to hitch on to you, con men come out of the woodwork everyone want’s a piece of what you have, if you don’t adapt you will be poor again

  6. Money is supposed to be a service that curbs our animalistic materialistic desires, but instead it has become the key feature of the system enabling the gross excesses of the few to the detriment of the many. 

    • > Money is supposed to be a service that curbs our animalistic materialistic desires

      Where did you get that idea?

      Before money was value.
      Value was an arbitrary assignment of worth to an object.

      Values were traded between peoples.
      Money became an abstract representation of value,
      in order to facilitate and speed-up transactions.

      With the advent of computer trading
      money became hypothecated and disconnected from value
      and became a value unto it self.

      as Lao Tzu noted:
      If you overesteem great men,
      people become powerless.
      If you overvalue possessions,
      people begin to steal.

      • Look im not the bad guy here. This is what I observed and comes out of my intuition, if you disagree i could care less. To me the deeper meaning of money is to stop me from taking every item i want, since i have to pay for it and work for the money, maybe in a distance future we can have a trust system where everyone trust that you will take only what you need then we would not need money, or a process where you apply for ownership of a certain product and factories would pump out products according to how many requests for their creation, a government subsidiarity (commodities are owned by everyone anyway like smart phones a bed, etc etc). A system with more transparency than the current financial system . Financial services are services just like the internet is, and we pay for it. Its def an instrument of control it started as pure representation of value but once the banks got corrupted (because of their power over money and consequently power over humanity) it became a tool of pure control.  Basic commodities is true value. The problem is the people in power and with the most money become corrupted and become enemies of humanity, social aliens of sorts.

        • Money is a buffer, the philosophers stone that can turn into any commodity. Its the automated middle man between me and my desired item or service.

        • Dude, challenging your assumptions is not inherently disrespectful.
          Socrates built a philosophy on dialogs about ideas.

          Money has some technical benefits
          but it also has negative effects.
          We would do well to acknowledge that.

          But to propose that money was designed
          as some kind of social control mechanism is ludicrous.
          Social control is an unanticipated side-effect of money.

          • Socrates was a slave holder.  His philosophy justified slavery. Just like our founding fathers.  Philosophy mis applied can countenance anything.

          • Let me get this straight:
            we shouldn’t use the Socratic method:
            i.e. the questioning of ideas and the discussion of them
            because Socrates owned slaves?

          • TennesseeCyberian | Jul 14, 2012 at 11:45 pm |

            People who buy products made in China and other Third World countries support wage-slave holders.  Assuming you used an electronic device to post your comment, do you still get to have an opinion?

          • You have no idea about the designs and what really happens. dont act like you know it all. If it was designed to control or not, its still a problem. socrates in main stream philosophy there are so many thinkers.

          • I felt disrespected. Make your own post and get off my grill. It was just a quit statement, didnt want to argue. Think  for yourself fool.

          • its disrespectful to try to get attention on top of my quick and awesome post. Get out of the way. If i had to rely on the outside world to confirm everything I believe to be true I would be very confused all the time. There are many philosophies and they all hold true to a point where they fail to explain everything.

  7. > Money Makes People Act Less Human

    no, money makes people act the way humans act
    when influenced by money

    there’s been a lot of research on humans and money
    the studies using Capuchin monkey’s is most telling
    (the monkeys and humans act exactly the same way with money)

    everyone keeps trying to find out what inside humans
    makes them act they way they do with money
    most conjecture that it’s genetic

    money has an effect on human consciousness
    the banksters are monkey’s and the money makes them act that way

    when humans finally discover that their technologies effect their consciousness
    (probably in the next 500 years or so, if they live that long)
    these problems can be solved
    till then
    humans are still hairless monkeys

  8. Money was invented to make us less human. Money is an alien to human society. 

  9. Duh…the greater the insulating effect of large piles of loot, the less one has to depend on interpersonal skills to resolve problems. The fewer interpersonal actions…the more atrophied empathy and other human skills become. In the end, you can even watch it in proportion to the amount of money…with an ever shrinking capacity to handle contact with other humans in a caring or even reasonable way .

  10. I bet whoever wrote this article gets a regular paycheck. Its easy to be critical of the system when you can pay all you bills, put gas in your car and keep yourself fed. 
     Ask a homeless person if having money makes you less human. Prepare to punched in the face.

    • Is it harder to be critical of the system when you can’t pay all your bills, put gas in your car or keep yourself fed?

      • Yes, it is. For one thing- you don’t know what the hell is going on- you have no access to the media. For another thing- have you every been so hungry, dirty and tired that you are a little bit insane? I mean when eating things out of the trash and finding shelter for the night are one of your main concerns, criticising civilization and the use of money seems a little unimportant.

        • That’s understandable.  Perhaps those who are well off enough to be able criticize the system that causes some people to get so hungry, dirty and tired that they go a little bit insane shouldn’t necessarily be criticized for doing so.

          • On the contrary- I think anyone who critizes MONEY as evil- simply hasn’t had a point in thier lives where they had none. Somebody needs to bitchslap these people into realizing having MONEY is not the problem. It’s how you use it that matters.

          • Jin The Ninja | Jul 14, 2012 at 3:42 pm |

            nah, i’ll stick with a thorough critique of the system that engenders inequality and poverty at every turn.

          • Yeah- a critique. That will put food in your stomach and a roof over your head. Good luck with that.

          • Jin The Ninja | Jul 14, 2012 at 3:52 pm |

            except i do ‘work’, which not only fulfills my financial needs, but also allows me to expand my critical thought. i have met MANY an activist, a non-profit, social justice ‘worker’ who has managed to accomplish through their very work BOTH a critique and a roof. even a garden once in a while.

          • Well good for them and you. Jesus loves you too.

          • Jin The Ninja | Jul 14, 2012 at 9:55 pm |

            that’s great, but i’ve known that since 1st grade catholic school.

          • TennesseeCyberian | Jul 14, 2012 at 11:20 pm |

            Welcome back.  I see you’ve been sharpening the old katana.

          • Jin The Ninja | Jul 15, 2012 at 3:13 am |

            i’ve been back for a while ol’ pokey.

          • TennesseeCyberian | Jul 15, 2012 at 4:42 am |

            I’m glad.

          • Jin The Ninja | Jul 15, 2012 at 11:46 am |

            i’m sure you are.

          • There’s truth to that, but it’s a complex issue.  I personally don’t view money as inherently evil, but the various types have their flaws–especially money in this country, created out of debt by the Fed.

            Our attitude towards it also plays a role.  Money is just a medium of exchange, not actual wealth, and I think the problem is with those who view it as an end rather than a means.  A country that taxes returns on investments less than income earned through hard work is doomed to economic failure.

            The fact that you and I give to the homeless proves that it doesn’t automatically sap people of all their compassion, but that doesn’t disprove the general effect outlined in the article.  And ultimately the real problem for the poor is lack of food and shelter, not a lack of money.  Most societies have simply decided that people without money don’t get food or shelter, but it hasn’t always been that way.  I think it’s unrealistic and unfair to expect people without food or shelter to be good job candidates.

          • Well the lesson i learned is hang onto your job and be glad for every day you can work…

  11. Thezeitgeistmovement | Jul 17, 2012 at 1:56 am |

    More data to the slew of information supporting the fact that we need to transition from a monetary based economy to an Earth/Resource Based Economic Model. We don’t need it, and it’s holding us in artificial scarcity and greed and stagnating innovations that would make life easier for us all. Please consider what an RBEM entails and the efforts of The Zeitgeist Movement to spread this information.

  12. people felt it during and after the 2007 crash but we just needed the credible source to be allowed to feel it with certainty 

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