Recently I attended a talk by a wealth coach about the differences between what rich people believe and what poor people believe.

Much of the talk was in the form of questions followed by the "correct" answers, as in: "Would you rather have more money, or more time with your family and friends? Would you rather have more money, or more spirituality?… Rich people say ‘I want both!’"

To me the talk came across as sneering at poor people, and making rich people feel better about themselves. I wasn’t sure that much of it was based on any kind of evidence, and today I came across some research (by Kathleen D Vohs of the University of Minnesota) which suggested a different conclusion – that even thinking about money  tends to make you more independent, but also more selfish.

There’s an article about this research, plus earlier some earlier studies that back it up, by JohnJoe McFadden in the Guardian today.

The original research, The Psychological Consequences Of Money, is published in Science magazine:

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.

What thinking about money does to you

2 thoughts on “What thinking about money does to you

  • No surprises for me here. In evolutionary terms, money is a recent innovation to which we cannot be expected to have adapted. Anyone who has seen will understand how it has evolved, piecemeal, into a system of domination of the many by an anonymous few.

    Since individuals don’t issue money, every monetised interaction they have with others is a zero-sum interaction, meaning one winner and one loser. Moreover, the more one person wins, the more the other one loses. Such a dynamic cannot be expected to sit easily with the natural, altruistic tendencies which I believe are fundamental to human nature.

    The money system shapes society by giving more influence to those who have more money. This study’s connection between money-mindedness and selfishness is therefore a distressing one worthy of attention. Should we really be giving more respect to the financially wealthy? There is more on the main problems of the money system at

  • After some years of promoting altruism through, I have found that the less people had a job connected to money, the easier it was to see the social vision. e.g. money market dealers had almost no belief that people were altruistic.

    This fits the research, and also common sense; if people’s day to day job is centred on zero-sum interactions, then the more they help others, the more they hamper themselves — so a denial of human altruism seems quite predictable. I try to avoid money as much as possible, and don’t have such a pessimistic view of human nature.

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