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Money Can Change Your Behavior Toward Others

In one experiment, they exposed participants to one of three screensavers – a blank screen, a screen of fish swimming, or a screen of money falling. Then they were asked to pull a chair over while the experimenter went to get someone for a “get acquainted” conversation. The people exposed to the money screensaver put a significantly greater distance between their own chair and the chair they pulled over than either other screensaver. Simply being reminded of money was enough to create a greater social separateness.

The screensaver exposure in another experiment also predicted whether a person would want to work alone on a task, or with another person. Those who saw the money screensaver overwhelmingly chose to work alone than those who saw one of the other two screensavers (72% versus 16%). Keep in mind, the participants weren’t asked to stare or even make note of the screensaver – it was just there on the computer at the desk they happened to be sitting at.

And it wasn’t just the money screensaver that changed people’s behaviors. Sitting underneath a poster of money, participants in another experiment more often chose solitary activities from a list of activities they would find most enjoyable, rather than social activities with their friends or family. People sitting under a floral poster more often chose the social activities.

See a pattern here?

Even a small reminder of money can apparently change our mindset, our behaviors, and our focus. It seems that our brains activate this concept of “money,” suddenly we look at the world around us and prioritize things very differently. It appears to make a person more self-interested and more socially isolated.

Money is a very powerful but often invisible force in our lives. We should not be surprised to learn that money causes a lot of problems in marriages and long-term relationships, because it appears to activate a different mindset in ourselves that may be incompatible (or at least in conflict with) our social mindset and norms. Such a force should be recognized, working within our social relationships to identify when money is playing a negative role. And we may need to re-evaluate how we handle money in such situations if we value the strength of the future relationship.


Ariely, D. (2008). Predictably Irrational. HarperCollins: New York.

Brafman, O. & Brafman, R. (2008). Sway. Currency Doubleday: New York.

Heyman, J., & Ariely, D. (2004). Effort for payment. A tale of two markets. Psychological Science, 15(11), 787-93.

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.

Money Can Change Your Behavior Toward Others

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Money Can Change Your Behavior Toward Others. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
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Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 9 Jul 2008)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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