Bank robbers and gamblers will tell you what people are prepared to do for the sake of money. But money also has more subtle influences. Back in 2006, researchers showed that mere reminders of money made people more selfish (although note a later attempt failed to replicate this result).
In the latest research in this field, a team led by Yuwei Jiang have shown that exposing people to pictures of money, or to money-related words, reduces their emotional expressivity and makes them more sensitive to other people’s expressions of emotion. The researchers think the effect occurs because money primes a business mindset, and in business the cultural norm is to conceal emotion.
There were six studies in all, involving a mixture of dozens of undergrads in Hong Kong, and dozens of US adults recruited via the Amazon Mechanical Turk website. In every case some participants were exposed to money and some weren’t. The money exposure was either via looking at pictures of cash and coins, ostensibly to judge the clarity and lighting of the pictures (control participants saw pictures of sea shells, furniture or green leaves), or through rearranging words into sentences, many of which pertained to money (control participants only dealt with neutral sentences).
Being exposed to pictures of money or money-related words led participants to say they were less keen on sharing their emotions; to actually convey less negative emotion when asked to write a negative review about a product they were unhappy with; to convey less positive emotion when asked to write a description of a funny movie clip; to perceive other people’s facial expressions of emotion as more intense; and to have less desire to interact with a smiley or angry person. In each case these effects were shown in comparison with control participants who were not exposed to money.
A couple of details to consider. Jiang and his colleagues said these effects weren’t simply related to motivation. For example, on the writing tasks, the money condition participants wrote just as many words and for just as long as the control participants; the specific difference was that they included less emotion in their writing. Also, there were ways to reduce the effects of money. For example, when money-exposed people were told that other people’s emotions were being displayed in private, they no longer rated those people’s emotions as more intense – this is consistent with the idea that money primes a business mindset that has implications for the public, but not private, expression of emotion.
The researchers said their findings have several practical implications. “… if a consideration of money increases individuals’ perception that the public expression of emotion is inappropriate,” they explained, “it may decrease the desirability of using money as a medium of exchange when strong feelings are being conveyed.” They also added that more research is needed to see if the effects they reported will apply in nations or cultures that are less commercialised than the US and Hong Kong.
Jiang, Y., Chen, Z., & Wyer, R. (2014). Impact of money on emotional expression Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 55, 228-233 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2014.07.013