Simply handling and sorting money seems to affect preschoolers’ behavior, prompting them to work harder and give away less, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management and University of Illinois at Chicago.
Significantly, the children in the study lacked concrete knowledge of money’s purpose, and the effects persisted despite the denomination of the money.
“Money is a double-edged sword. It produces good outcomes in terms of concentration and effort, but bad outcomes when it comes to helping, taking, and donating,” said Dr. Kathleen Vohs, the Land O’Lakes Chair in Marketing at the University of Minnesota and co-author of the study.
The research involved 550 children (ages three to six) in Poland and the United States. In one experiment, the children were asked to either sort money or buttons before working on a difficult puzzle.
The researchers found that the money-handling children showed greater concentration and effort: 73 percent of the children who handled the money spent at least two minutes on the task, compared to only 56 percent of those who had sorted buttons.
In the next experiment, the researchers tested the children on helpful behavior. Again after sorting money or buttons, the preschoolers were asked to help prepare a task for another child. The money-handling children were less helpful in terms of gathering crayons for the next child than those who had first handled buttons.
In another experiment, the researchers tested whether candy might elicit a similar response to money. After sorting money, buttons, or candy, the children were told that they could take up to six Disney stickers. All of the children who sorted money took at least three stickers, whereas only 78 percent of children who sorted candies and 76 percent who sorted buttons took as many.
The children were then told they could give some of their stickers to other children who didn’t participate, or they could keep them for themselves. The money-handling kids donated half as many stickers compared to kids who sorted buttons or candy.
“Money is a vital component of cultural life,” said Dr. Lan Chaplin, associate professor of marketing at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Our findings with children as young as three years old suggest potentially significant implications for achievement, generosity, and interpersonal harmony.”
According to Vohs, the findings with children reflect similar outcomes from European, Asian, and North American adult samples. “The similarities across developmental and cultural lines suggest common and basic properties in the psychology of money,” she said.
The study is published in the journalPsychological Science.
Source: University of Minnesota