Money as a Social Barrier

I came across an interesting article on How To Change The World on the idea that thinking about money can create social barriers. He quotes a study by Dr. Kathleen Vohs on the topic. Here’s an excerpt:

To examine this idea in a more controlled setting, Vohs, now at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and colleagues recruited several hundred college students to participate in a variety of experiments. In each experiment, the researchers subtly prompted half the volunteers to think of money—by having them read an essay that mentioned money, for example, or seating them facing a poster depicting different types of currency—before putting them in a social situation. In one experiment, the researchers gave volunteers a difficult puzzle and told them to ask for help at any time. People who had been reminded of money waited nearly 70% longer to seek help than those who hadn’t. People cued to think of money also spent only half as much time, on average, assisting another person who asked for their help with a word problem and picked up fewer pencils for someone who’d dropped them.

Kawasaki’s take on this is that if you need to pay someone to evangelize for your product or service, it’s probably not worthwhile, mirroring my own views on pay-per-post evangelism schemes.

However, when I read the study, I had a completely different reaction. Here’s another excerpt:

Volunteers reminded of money preferred working alone even if sharing the task with a co-worker resulted in substantially less work. They also chose solitary leisure activities on a questionnaire–preferring a private cooking lesson, for instance, over a dinner for four. And when asked to set up two chairs for a get-to-know-you chat with another volunteer, subjects who’d seen a money-themed computer screensaver placed the chairs further apart than subjects who’d seen a fish screensaver.

The way I see it, money causes people to act irrationally in social situations. It’s not so much that it causes people to react in antisocial ways, although that is a symptom. The problem is caused by an innate desire for money and the personal leverage that it can create.

This is just a generalization of many phenomena we’ve all witnessed, things such as the loaning of money destroying a relationship or the intense competition to keep up with the Joneses. Once money is introduced as a factor in a relationship, it alters the dimensions of that relationship and causes us to be less altruistic.

The key to hopping this social barrier is to remove money from the equation as much as you can. Don’t compare your finances to the guy next door; set your own goals instead and just treat the guy next door as a friend. Don’t loan money to anyone who might have a social connection with you. And when it comes time to socialize, put away the pocketbook.

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