Study: Minds Focused on Money Are Less Ethical

Fresh off research about how wealth skews behavior comes a study suggesting that even the mention of dollars can have a subconscious influence.

Researchers from Harvard and the University of Utah have published a study indicating that people are more likely to lie or exhibit unethical behavior after hearing or seeing words related to money, MarketWatch says. (I guess our whole site is encouraging unethical behavior. Whoops. Be good.)

The study asked participants, who were college students majoring in business, to form sentences out of provided phrases or to solve a word search puzzle. Some of the phrases or hidden words were money-related, while others contained no references to money.

Afterward, they were put through a few experiments, including “watching an actor perform unethical tasks and deciding how likely they would be to do the same,” Business Insider says. Another experiment placed them in a hypothetical manager’s position and asked whether they would hire a candidate who promised to share insider information about a competitor.

People who were exposed to the phrases about money were consistently more likely to lie or behave unethically for gain, the study found.

“The money cues were triggering a business decision mind frame, which meant that they focused on a cost-benefit analysis as motivation to pursue their own self interest, rather than thinking about things more broadly,” study co-author Kristin Smith-Crowe told BI.

“We were interested in the fact that maybe it’s not even love of money, but just the mere subtle exposure to the concept of money that may also be corrupting,” she said.

One potential flaw of the study is that, according to MarketWatch, all of its participants were business students. They could reasonably be expected to already have a “business decision mind frame.” Maybe they just hadn’t taken that ethics course yet.

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