Just the Thought of Money Makes Us Unethical, Study Says

The money (left) and control/neutral (right) pictures used to “prime” participants in one study of how money influences moral outcomes.

by Eamon Murphy

The mere thought of money can trigger a subconscious mindset that predisposes people towards unethical actions, according to recent research by professors at Harvard and the University of Utah.

Earlier work suggested that subtle exposure to money can influence behavior and decisions in self-centered ways, making people in studies more likely to choose an individual activity over a group one, for instance. This new research set out to to determine how such exposure might impact “morally relevant outcomes,” in light of money’s enormous importance to society in general and business organizations in particular.

Participants were exposed to the concept of money — or not, in the case of control groups — by unscrambling phrases or viewing images. They then carried out tasks that presented opportunities for dishonesty or other underhanded dealing. In all four studies, people who had been “primed” with the thought of money “were more likely to demonstrate unethical intentions, decisions, and behavior than participants in a control condition,” according to Kristin Smith-Crowe, psychologist and associate professor at Utah’s David Eccles School of Business.

Smith-Crowe and her coauthors conclude that “money may be a more insidious corruption factor that previously appreciated, going well beyond the often lamented ‘love of money’ to touch even those not overtly motivated by greed.”

continue reading »

More News