Thought of Money Makes You Less Social, Study Suggests

(Image credit: jwblinn/

WASHINGTON — Subtle reminders of money can affect the way people behave in social settings, causing them to be less engaged with others, suggests new research.

A group of researchers discussed results from ongoing investigations into how money impacts social relationships here at the 25th annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science (APS) on Sunday (May 26).

"Money holds lots of different associations for different people," said Kathleen Vohs, an associate professor of marketing in the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, who moderated an APS panel on the topic. "There can be social benefits and social costs to reminders of money."

To study whether money can impact social relationships, Nicole Mead, an assistant professor at the Rotterdam School of Management in The Netherlands, designed an experiment to gauge whether indirect reminders of money could influence how an individual perceives another person during a live encounter. [5 Ways Relationships Are Good For You]

Pairs of participants began by completing a survey, during which time one person was exposed to a reminder of money, such as having to fill out the survey on top of a laminated poster showing dollar bills.

The test subjects were then brought together to have a 10-minute structured conversation. The participants started with basic questions to get acquainted with one another, before moving toward more personal and intimate discussions.

"This was intended to mimic the growing development of a social relationship," Mead explained.

Individuals who had been reminded of money perceived the other person to be less likeable during these interactions, indicating that even subtle money cues can impact interpersonal harmony.

The money priming didn't make the other person seem "nasty or horrible or completely unlikeable, but just slightly dampened their interpersonal appeal," Mead said.

Mead and her colleagues suggest that people have different expectations for social interactions involving money, which could explain these changes in behavior.

"We don't think it's necessarily the case that money makes people not want to have relationships with others in general, they just want very specific types of relationships," Mead said. "It's not a desire to be nasty or mean to other people, but just a subtle difference in wanting to engage in relationships based on principles of exchange rather than communal bonds."

Since money has been ingrained as a way of exchanging goods or services for mutual benefit, people are less likely to invest personal emotions into these types of social interactions, Mead said.

"When you prime people with money, they approach their social interactions in a fundamentally different way than they normally would," said Nathan DeWall, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, who has conducted similar research on the psychology of money. "Whereas when most people are presented with the possibility of having an interaction with another person, with anticipated rewards that accompany that, when you prime people with money, they just approach it in a socially disengaged and less rewarding manner. And this has profound consequences for their behavior."

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Denise Chow
Live Science Contributor

Denise Chow was the assistant managing editor at Live Science before moving to NBC News as a science reporter, where she focuses on general science and climate change. Before joining the Live Science team in 2013, she spent two years as a staff writer for, writing about rocket launches and covering NASA's final three space shuttle missions. A Canadian transplant, Denise has a bachelor's degree from the University of Toronto, and a master's degree in journalism from New York University.