Do You Think About Money All the Time? It Could Be Corrupting You

by Miranda Marquit · 9 comments

One of the more interesting items I’ve read recently was a CNN Money article on how thinking about money can influence you to behave in an unethical manner. The results came from four different studies performed at the University of Utah and Harvard University.

In these studies, researchers found that thinking about money puts people into a different mindset — a mindset that results in a willingness to make morally dubious decisions.

This mindset focuses on maximizing financial gains, and doesn’t pay much attention to moral considerations. If it means that they’ll get more money, many people are willing to lie or cheat, or even steal.

What Constitutes Thinking About Money?

It would be nice to think that only those who deal with money all the time are affected. However, the studies indicate that even a small amount of exposure to money thoughts can decrease ethical tendencies. Just images of currency or the act of unscrambling money-related words can weaken moral resolve.

So, whether you’re listening to a rap song about money, or are wondering about paying the bills, it appears that your thoughts could stray to unethical ways to obtain more money.

How Do Thoughts of Money Influence You?

It might not be a bad idea to consider how money might be influencing your own thoughts and actions. The studies suggest that the influence might not be huge or obvious — it could be a little more subtle. For most of us, looking at pictures of hundred dollar bills isn’t going to prompt us to rush out and rob a convenience store.

But what if a little lie could increase your bottom line? What if trading on some illegal insider information could mean a higher profit? The CNN Money article uses an example of an employee taking a ream of paper from the office because he or she is out of printer paper at home.

These are seemingly small things that many of us don’t even really think are wrong as we’re doing them.

But, when we stop and think about these actions, or if we were to see someone else doing them, we consider it wrong — especially since we’re often thinking about moral issues at that point, and not our own bottom lines.

The morality seems to be a little more fluid when it comes to making decisions for yourself, and especially when making decisions that really impact your financial situation. It becomes about the financial edge and the boosting of profits.

Of course, this makes me wonder what kind of person I’m becoming. I think about money for a good portion of every day, just because it’s my job to write about it. Are all these thoughts about money resulting in subtle influences that are corrupting me?

What do you think? Can thoughts about money turn you into a worse person? Do you think there’s a difference between occasionally thinking about money and obsessing over it?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Marcy Heim says:

    Growing up we may have heard, “You can either be rich or you can be ____________. Spiritual, Loving, Kind, Liked, Good….add you own word. It’s the sad state of Either/Or verses Both. It’s our justification that wealth somehow saddles us with a host of negative traits. Thus wealth is to be avoided for what it does to our virtues. In fact, you can be spiritual, loving, kind, liked and good AND be wealthy. In my work with non-profits, the donors who underscore BOTH are plentiful. Yet don’t we also feel the negative vibs of envy as we acquire wealth or talk about our donor’s generosity? And sadly, there is plenty of messaging, and misguided studies like these that supports either/or thinking.

  • James Molet says:

    Can thoughts about money turn you into a worse person? No. Each of us has no choice but to think about money hundreds (paying bills, contributing to a charity, managing a checkbook, making a contribution to an IRA, etc.) of times a day. Thinking about money does not in itself constitute something negative.

    Do you think there’s a difference between occasionally thinking about money and obsessing over it? Of course. As with anything, moderation is often best.

    At the end of the day it would be foolish to not think about money, unless you have no desire to effectively manage your everyday life, build a solid fiscal foundation, or in anyway prepare yourself for retirement.

  • It seems to me that it is not about how much we think about money but how we think about it. ‘Financial dislocation’, or thinking about money without reference to life an values can be corruption. But so it thinking about food without reference to nourishment.

  • Money makes people greedy and creates low morale. Do not search for more money than you need and you will be happier too.

    • James Molet says:

      So how do you consider the question of how much money you need without thinking about it? I guess during that process you are becoming more corrupted, less moral?

  • Lifeisdynamic says:

    Hmmm! As you suggest, it seems to depend on whether you the perpetrator or the observer as to what is ethical or unethical.

    A poor destitute person may steal from a bakers dust bin for stale bread. He is likely thinking about food for himself or his children and not money. However, if he had money (should he dare to dream of having it), he could buy his bread. Is this unethical? Who is the unethical person here – the hungry man or the observer?

    An investor may look to reduce/avoid taxes through legal loopholes. Is this unethical? Who is the the unethical person – the investor or the observer?

    To me it seems if you have enough and don’t need any more, or have no need for what was taken, or if you are the jealous observer of the person who has the where-with-all to carry off a daring advantage, then you can take the ethical high ground as the observer.
    On the other hand, if you steal from me or cause me to go without or cause me to have to pay more because you cheated in some way, then I am indignant that I suffer for your gain. I consider that what you have done to me is unethical, unfair and down-right wrong.

    I’m not arguing about the research, as I believe that if you have the need or the greed for something, whether it is bread or money, you will imagine all sorts of ways to meet that end. It begins with the survival instinct, I think. Some people are more cunning/imaginative at achieving what they want, and some are more reckless and violent. Some can be admired for their efforts others are condemned. Ethical behavior is relative to the act of achieving and who it hurts.

  • Jonathan says:

    It’s bound to be the case that focusing on one thing too much whatever that might be is likely to be unhealthy. It’s good to have a dream. If dreaming about a monetary target helps you to visualise a goal then tht’s great. It’s all about context.

  • I think I obsess about money. I’m trying to turn it into something positive by making a blog to discuss personal finance.

    I think it just depends on what you do with it. You can obsess over money and use it to screw people to get more, or you can use that energy to help others.

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