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Tag : behavior


Money corrupts, they say, and now there’s a study that shows why people get  so sneaky when it comes to making a profit.

human-lies

The research, which was published in the journal Organizational Behavior  and Human Decision Processes, revealed that people doubled the number of  lies they told in order to earn extra cash if they were first prompted to think  about money. The study involved more than 300 business students who participated  in several experiments, all of which showed that cuing people to consider money  increased either unethical intentions or actions.

“Our research suggests that we may be vulnerable to some influences that  we’re not aware of,” says study co-author Kristen Smith-Crowe, associate  professor of management at the David Eccles School of Business at the University  of Utah, “Our moral behavior may be affected by things in the environment that  we have no idea are affecting us.”

The students were randomly assigned to think about either money or about  nothing in particular by descrambling sentences; the money-related sentences  included phrases such as “She spends money liberally” while those unrelated to  cash included “She walked on grass.”

In one trial involving 50 participants, those who reconstructed the  money-related sentences were far more likely to say they would do things like  steal a ream of paper from the office copy machine than those who worked with  the unrelated sentences. In another test involving 91 students, participants  played a game in which they could either lie to a person they were told was  another player and earn $5 or tell the truth and earn $2.  Students cued to  consider money told twice as many lies.

In the final study, 65 business undergrads— with an average of 3 years full  time work experience— were asked to  place themselves in the position of  considering candidates for employment. They were presented with the case of a  qualified applicant who offered to provide confidential information that would  benefit the company if hired. Again, those primed to think about money were more  likely to hire the unethical candidate. Similarly, those who worked with the  money-related sentences were also more likely to cheat in a game that was rigged  to reward them regardless of whether they played by the rules or not.

But the students could have simply been acting out of self-interest, so to  determine if the students were just being selfish, or whether they were more  motivated by the need to maximize profit and gain — admirable goals in the  commerce-oriented business world — the researchers also conducted other tests to  separate personal greed from a “just doing business” position. They found that a  business mindset was more closely linked to unethical intentions and behaviors  than were feelings related to power, competition or simply looking out for  oneself.

“The main point is a ‘wow’ finding – that small and unnoticeable reminders of  money can produce lying, cheating, and essentially stealing 10 minutes later.  That is really fascinating,” says Kathleen Vohs, professor of marketing at the  University of Minnesota, who has conducted similar research but was not  associated with this study.

Why would thoughts of money increase misbehavior? “[Money cues] trigger this  business decision frame [like seeing the world only through] a cost/benefit  analysis and the significance is that we’re not considering other things like  moral issues,” says Smith-Crowe.

The research adds to prior work connecting wealth, greed and unethical  behavior; one series of studies found that those who were rich were more likely  to engage in sketchy actions, ranging from shoplifting, cutting people off in  their cars to lying to job seekers to giving less to charity proportionally than  those who were less well off.

In one study, this connection was explained almost entirely by the  more common belief among the wealthy that greed — or love of money — was good,  and an admirable quality, rather than by class itself. When the research was  published, author Paul Piff of the University of California in Berkeley told me,  “We’re not arguing that rich people are bad at all, but that psychological  features of wealth have these natural effects.”

Which may explain why money is so often seen as corrupting and having a  negative influence on people’s behavior. That doesn’t bode well for a population  living in an increasingly uncertain and highly unequal economy, where more  relationships have become transactional and the “just business” strategy, rather  than a morally driven one, seems to make more sense. “A lot of the socialization  [into working in business] involves ideas like maximizing profits and  shareholder wealth,” says Smith-Crowe,  “We want to ask the question, and  we’re just starting on research in this:  Can people’s concepts of business  be changed so we can extend them to include moral considerations?”

One can only hope.

@maiasz

Maia Szalavitz is a neuroscience journalist for TIME.com and co-author of  Born  for Love: Why Empathy Is Essential — and Endangered.