This is a guest post by Jodie Whelan. Jodie is a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholar and Ph.D. candidate in Marketing at the Ivey Business School, Western University. Jodie’s research aims to define, describe and explore the potential consequences of the consumer role on both consumer and non-consumer behavior. In addition to her work on the consumer role, Jodie works with attachment theory to explore how peoples’ attachment styles and experiences in interpersonal relationships impact their relationships with brands and service providers. Her work has been published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, has received media coverage in the National Post and the Toronto Star, and has been presented at multiple conferences. For more of Jodie’s musings, see her blog.
I don’t know about you, but I have never played a game of Monopoly that ended well. Accusations of cheating, refusals to pay rent, and endless pouting/screaming/throwing miniature hotels were inevitable. Until recently, I always assumed this was a function of highly competitive sisters desperate to best each other in Uncle Pennybag’s world of property management. And though I’m sure this dynamic contributed at least partly to my childhood memories, recent research on the psychology of money suggests the Monopoly moola may also be to blame.
In a series of articles published in Science, Current Directions in Psychological Science, and the Journal of Consumer Research, Kathleen Vohs, Associate Professor of Marketing at the Carlson School of Management of the University of Minnesota, and her colleagues have shown that being reminded of money (for example, having a screensaver of floating money, unscrambling sentences about money, or playing Monopoly) triggers feelings of self-sufficiency.
The experiments were stunning in their simplicity. Groups of students arrived at the university lab; half were exposed to cash cues, half were not; and then they were exposed to a series of situations designed to measure their helping behavior. For example, in one study, while participants were completing unrelated questionnaires, one of two screensavers appeared. In the money condition, participants saw a screensaver of bills floating underwater. In the control condition, participants saw a screensaver of fish swimming underwater. Afterward, all participants were told they’d be getting to know another participant and were asked to move two chairs together so they’d be able to have a conversation.
Participants who saw the money screensaver placed the chairs farther apart than those who saw the fish screensaver.
In another experiment, half of the participants were primed with money by a stack of Monopoly bills in their visual periphery. Compared to participants in the control (no money) condition, the participants primed with money were subsequently less helpful when a nearby confederate dropped a box of pencils, gathering fewer pencils than their counterparts in the control condition.
Further, none of the participants in any of the studies were aware monetary cues were affecting their behavior.
The researchers conclude that, upon exposure to monetary cues, people become more focused on pursuing their own interests and prefer to be separate from others. Eventually, this trickles down to more self-focused and less helpful behavior. And in the world of Monopoly, more ruthless hotel tycoons.
So what does this mean for consumers and service providers? Well, for starters, it reminds us of the power of the situation. Environmental triggers are cuing behavior, whether we are aware of it or not, whether we intend for it or not. Taking an active role to shape our environment allows us to remove unnecessary obstacles and may ultimately make attaining our end goals easier. Want employees and/or consumers to be self-motivated and self-reliant? Ditch the carrot and dangle cold, hard cash. Want group harmony, teamwork, and selfless consumers? Take a lesson from the Church––insist cash donations are contained within sealed envelopes––and hide the moola.
And if you’re ever in a cutthroat game of Monopoly, don’t be afraid to blame (or credit…?) the money for your less than cordial behavior.
Take that, Uncle Pennybags.
Professor Kathleen Vohs will be presenting her research at Ivey on Tuesday September 18th.
For the original works on the psychology of money, see
Vohs, K. D., Mead, N. L., & Goode, M. R. (2006). The Psychological Consequences of Money. Science, 314, 1154-1156.
Vohs, K. D., Mead, N. L., & Goode, M. R. (2008). Merely Activating the Concept of Money Changes Personal and Interpersonal Behavior. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17(3), 208-212.
Liu, J. E., Smeesters, D., & Vohs, K. D. (forthcoming). Reminders of money elicit feelings of threat and reactance in response to social influence. Journal of Consumer Research.