Money has a strange way of affecting human nature: how does it motivate, satisfy, and disappoint us? Whether people get richer slowly, instantly, or have always had wealth, we all know that money can change one’s behaviour – and those around them. While many of us have suspicions about how money would affect everyone, here are some studies to verify our beliefs.
Money and sense of entitlement
In a Singapore context, there’s a big debate on “Chinese privilege” which points to a scenario where those who have more money may have a condescending or dismissive view of those who have less. A 2013 study sought to discover if the differences in “class” were based on identity and genetics (ie. a certain race) or just circumstance (ie. merit). The results confirmed what everybody suspects.
Basically, the rich believed they were wealthy because of their genes and identity, and that they were entitled to wealth based upon their personal circumstances and actions. The poor believed that anyone can be rich or poor depending on circumstance. The wealthy also believed that people generally get what they deserve; in Singapore, which is governed by meritocracy, people believe that the poor are poor because they’re lazy.
Doing things from the heart is more efficient
Would you do a better job if you were doing it as a favour to someone, or if you were paid for it? A 2004 study looked at how differently we treated certain jobs/tasks based on different motivations. It found that participants who did their tasks for free as a favour completed them the fastest. This is followed by the group who did it at the highest price, with the group who were paid the least the slowest.
So for those looking for jobs, you may be more effective at things you’re passionate at because of the positive connotation. When you add a monetary value to your skills, you may under-perform if you perceive that you’re being underpaid. At the end of the day, nobody’s happy.
Being money-conscious makes you anti-social
Does being aware of money (or making it an important aspect of their lives) make people see others around them only as obstacles to their own ambitions? A 2009 study found that those who are conscious of money typically strive to be more self-sufficient than those who don’t put money as a priority.
The study split a group into one which was conscious about money (ie. they talked about money, finance, etc) and one where money wasn’t mentioned. Both were given difficult tasks that required assistance to finish, and only the group that were money-conscious wanted to finish them alone, even though it was impossible, and they also gave less time to a colleague in need of assistance.
Even during leisure time, the money-primed group chose solo activities like a personal cooking lesson over a catered group dinner. “Money,” says the study’s lead, Kathleen Vohs, “brings you into functionality mode. You can get things done, but it does come at the expense of people’s feelings or caring about them as individuals.”
Wealth affects compassion
Building on the previous finding, money not only breeds anti-social behaviour – it also makes one less emphatic. A 2011 Berkeley study found a correlation between social class and compassion, using physiology as a measure. Groups were segregated into 2 socio-economic classes, and it found that the lower classes were quicker to show compassion in the face of suffering. Those in the upper classes were less able to detect and respond to the distress signals of others.
In the study, the two groups were shown a video of children undergoing cancer treatment, and the study used slowing heart rates and facial expressions to measure compassion. “It’s not, ‘I can see you’re suffering. But I don’t care,’ ” the study’s lead, Jennifer Stellar, explains. “They’re just not attuned to it.”
So it seems that if you spend your life chasing only money, you’ll end up losing sight of the thing that makes us human: empathy.
Have money, will break rules
You’ve probably heard of multiple incidents involving luxury cars in Singapore, from reckless driving to hurling insults. A 2012 study noted that those who perceived themselves to be in a higher class were most likely to engage in unethical behaviour – these included cutting off another vehicle, cheating at a game, or simply taking more candy than offered. “People higher up on the socioeconomic ladder are about three times more likely to cheat than people on the lower rungs,” said the paper’s author, Paul Piff.
The study suggests having a lot of money or being in a higher class can dehumanise people, that they are more likely to prioritise their own self-interests above the interests of other people. While this attitude makes them a proverbial “asshole”, the study points out that the trait makes them good business leaders, since they know how to get the most out of a contract or job.
Money is an addiction
When someone has money, it’s only natural that they’d want more – and it can be very addictive for some people. Addiction to money can begin because a person gets a certain high or thrill from certain behaviours like gambling or shopping. The compulsive need to acquire money is considered a “behavioural addiction” which is part of a class of behaviours, which is distinct from substance abuse.
Money is also linked with a higher susceptibility to substance abuse – a number of studies have found that rich children, especially those in high school, are more vulnerable to substance abuse as a mechanism to cope with the pressure to achieve in school or with isolation from parents. Even in adulthood, the rich outdrink the poor by more than 27%.
Can money buy happiness?
Who doesn’t want to be rich and successful? There’s no way to say if there’s a link between money and income because for most people, after their basic needs (ie. food, roof over their heads) are taken care of, wealth doesn’t make much of a difference to overall well-being and happiness.
However, having more money can actually be detrimental, as extremely affluent folks suffer form higher rates of depression. It’s not “money” that leads to depression – it’s the relentless pursuit of wealth and material possessions and materialism has been linked with lower relationship satisfaction.
Perhaps it’s a good thing that younger Singaporeans are less driven by the need for material possessions these days, and are instead driven by the pursuit of happiness.