Money-Primed People Show Increased Self-Reliance and Are More Selfish

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In the book Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman shares some of the research work of Kathleen Vohs.  During the studies, individuals are exposed to different ‘primers’. Of interest to us today were the studies where people were exposed to primers related to money or reminders of money.  These triggers may be something as subtle as a stack of Monopoly money on a table or a screen saver of dollar bills floating in water.  In other experiments participants were working with phrases that have money themes.

He claims, “Money-primed people become more independent than they would be without the associative trigger.” This was shown by the fact that they worked twice as long on solving a very difficult problem before they asked for help. This, Kahneman says, is a, “crisp demonstration of increased self-reliance.”

Moreover, money-primed people are more selfish.  In the experiments they were less willing to spend time helping others during the experiment.

The bold conclusion is that, “the general theme of these findings is that the idea of money primes individualism: a reluctance to be involved with others, depend on others, or to accept demands from others.”

Finally, Kahneman says of Vohs’s work, “Her experiments are profound – her findings suggest that living in a culture that surrounds us with reminders of money may shape our behavior and our attitude in ways we may not be proud.”

My Observations:

1.  Most evangelical Americans won’t like this.

We are constantly claiming that money is neutral, and we decide how it will or won’t impact us.  This research seems to claim that money can and does draw out negative behaviors.

2.  Jesus yawns because it’s old news to him.

The Gospels, in fact the Bible, seems to be warning us constantly of the dangers of money to create self-reliance and selfishness.

3.  Money driven cultures are more self-reliant and (dare I say) more selfish.

I don’t have enough cultural experience worldwide to make a scientific statement.  I’ll share my impression.  Having lived in Papua New Guinea (PNG), Canada, and the States, I’d say that generally I’ve found people in North America to be much more self-reliant.  We have personal vehicles and can drive where we want, when we want.  We have insurance to care for us when we have needs.  In PNG, people are very reliant on family and community.

I’ve met a lot of very generous people in North America.  However, I’ve witnessed more self-sacrificial giving overseas.  I know that’s a terribly unfair observation and probably reveals more about my biases than fact.  However, I do believe communally-oriented cultures are more likely to act selfishly than individualistic cultures.

4.  I experience these realities in myself.

I constantly struggle with finding the right balance between caring for others and caring for myself.  For example, when I sit down and try to predict if I’ll have enough money for retirement, I’m more likely to cut back on giving in order to be sure I’m taken care of.  It’s a self defense mechanism.  On the other hand, when I’m focused on others, I’m more likely to be in a position where I may need to depend on others.

What are your thoughts?

Comments

  1. says

    Money is only a tool but the love of money is the root of all evil. I believe motivation is intent in action and God will, if I ask, tell me if what and where I’m giving is what He wants.
    I think a lot of what you’re writing about is very subjective; as Dave, my late husband used to say, “Where you stand depends upon where you sit.”

  2. Gary in Alaska says

    As usual another great article, which inspires self thinking. Having just retired, with less money than I think I need, God seems to be supplying my needs. One minister I watch frequently tells how he and his wife took a long needed sabbatical for 7 years into the hills of Montana. During that time, they built a home in the remote sections of the mountains, and their income was only $3,000 per year. Their house was built and paid for during this period of time. This experience and time away from most of society was one of the most spiritual events that happened to both he and his wife. As I reflect on that and the many missionaries, ministers, as even yourself, God provides. Our minds want only to believe what the world teaches us that we have to have more, and even when we have all we need we will want more. I’ve noticed in my life, no matter how much I’m blessed by God, I continually strive for more. I have everything I’ve ever dreamed about in my retirement years, but I’m continually bombarded with advertising that I may not have enough for my retirement and I may outlive my savings. I think of Jesus watching the people put their money in the offering. Jesus commented on the woman who put in only two mites, (Mark 12 and Luke 21), and as Jesus said, “…they cast in of their abundance, but she of her want did cast in all that she had… KJV). So Jesus was aware of her circumstances. That is more important than our cultural belief here in the US.

    There is absolutely no doubt in my mind, that the more we have the more independent we become. The more independent, the less we rely on God as our daily provider. Does that mean, I don’t wake up with my doubts every morning? I only wish, but it is like being a follower of Jesus, and I have to remind myself, that I have to die each day to myself. Sometimes I’m more successful than other times in doing both, looking to God as my source, and dying to self.

    Keep up the great articles. You are an inspiration to me.

  3. says

    It would appear to us that those who demand from others and depend upon others are the selfish ones. They think they are entitled to the fruits of someone else’s labor. They exhibit a lack of gratitude for the life and opportunities they’ve been afforded by not aspiring toward their full potential. They are, instead, focused on expropriating the wealth of others. They are, in fact, coveting the possessions of others.

    A great thought from an unknown author: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?” Actually – who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us, it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

    Our conclusion: If one wants to help the poor, don’t become poor. We can show the poor people in PNG, by our example, that they, too, can better themselves by being grateful for their capacity to earn money, or by working in their gardens, and being less demanding and dependent upon others.

    We demonstrate our dependence upon and gratitude toward God when we are appreciative of our God-given life and our capacity to earn and that is manifested by being industrious, thrifty (living on less than we earn), and not coveting after the possessions of others. In other words, being self reliant, with an attitude of gratitude (being rich toward God), is a virtue as well as being an empowering example and gift to others. There may be times to “give a fish” so to speak, but it is much more beneficial to teach someone, by our example, how to fish.

    The opposite of self-reliance, according to premise quoted in your article, is to be demanding and dependent upon others. Being demanding and dependent upon others is not being dependent upon God.

  4. says

    Thanks for this wonderful article that’s bound to make people think and ponder on how they are when they have more money. Although I agree that a lot of individuals do tend to become self-reliant and selfish when they get to have more money, I also know plenty of people who are very generous and still serve God and others tremendously despite their monetary wealth.

    I believe it’s really based on our mindset and influences. It would be good to prepare yourself spiritually and emotionally as you move toward greater financial success. There’s a saying that goes, “When the soul is ready, abundance will come.” This is why for those who are not ready, they tend to do evil things with their money or end up losing most or all of their money.

    As Christians, we should make it a point to bless others as our ultimate goal in becoming rich. Hence, this has to be practiced even if you don’t have a lot in your pocket yet.

  5. says

    Craig, I love the idea that you look at yourself first before judging others. If you look closely we all worry about money and if we would have enough of it when we cannot work anymore. This worry makes us work harder and as it may be selfish. Nonetheless, our instinct to help others prevail and we give to people who needs desperate help. It is nice to, once in a while, have a reality check and go back to our core values.

  6. says

    Great thoughts, Craig. I am from Jamaica and my parents grew up in extreme poverty, but based on what I’ve been told, they were so much richer in sharing, community, and valuing each other. As you said, places are different, but it is clear to see that having more does not mean having better. I want for us to be better off than we are, but being wealthy sometimes seems to come at too great a sacrifice.

  7. Martin says

    Well im proud of being christian and for the love of God and christian people,the best way deal with money in our lives is clearly defined in bible.So God bless us all,amen

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