Here are the only two things you really need to know about money:

  1. Our society is based on money.
  2. Money doesn’t always bring out the best in people.

Put these together, and you can see why money causes all sorts of problems in both person-to-person relationships and in society on a larger scale. You can also see why money is an intriguing topic for psychologists.

In a perfect world, money wouldn’t influence the way people treat each other. But then again, in a perfect world, we probably wouldn’t have money at all!

With this question of how money affects people’s relationships in mind, a pair of researchers at University College London ran a series of studies asking whether people who value money more tend to treat others differently.

To give a quick summary of the findings, the answer was – drum roll – yes.

To give a little more detail, the researchers started with an experiment looking at two things: how people in the study viewed money and how they viewed their relationships with others. What emerged was that people who considered money more important were also more likely to view their relationships in instrumental terms. That is, people who loved money also tended to see their relationships as having some practical purpose.

In the next experiment, the researchers considered whether making people feel rich changes the way those people approach relationships. When study participants were made to feel richer, they were more likely to seek out relationships with people who served some instrumental purpose.

The final two experiments looked at whether being more more focused on money affects the way people empathize with others. It turned out that making participants more motivated for money changed the way they viewed the internal mental states of both animals and other people. Specifically, it made them estimate animals and people as having lower mental capacities, which in turn made them more willing to engage in immoral behavior.

Interpreting these studies, the authors pointed out a common theme: a love of money makes people more likely to objectify others. The authors also suggested that this effect of money on how people approach relationships could help explain a lot of the problems money can cause in interpersonal relationships and for society more generally.

Of course, part of what makes this topic tricky is that money is important in the sense that you need it to get food or pretty much anything else in our society. That said, this research is a warning that we probably shouldn’t give money any more importance than we absolutely have to, because caring too much about money can make us that much poorer in other ways.

Image: Brock