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Study: Children under the influence of money - less generous but more persistent

05.02.2016 Society, Interesting facts

Source: Fotolia

Even small children who perform simple tasks associated with money become less generous, less helpful, but more persistent and effective when working on difficult tasks, according to the results of a series of experiments performed by an international team of researchers.

The study of 550 Polish and American children aged 3-6 years was conducted by scientists from the Wrocław branch of the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Illinois in Chicago and the University of Minnesota. "Even 6-year-olds have difficulty recognizing denominations and value of money. They understand that money is used to buy and sell, but basically it's their whole knowledge of the economy" - explained co-author of the study, Prof. Agata Gąsiorowska from the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Wroclaw.


In the study, children - divided into groups - first performed various tasks. One group was involved in activities associated with money, for example sorting coins and banknotes. The remaining children performed similar tasks, but unrelated to money: sorting buttons or candies. Then children were asked to help, share the prize with others, or solving very difficult mazes or do jigsaw puzzles.


The study showed that children who played with money showed more selfish behaviour than other participants. "There were less inclined to help the investigator, they took more prizes for themselves and were less likely to share with their peers. Interestingly, they were also more persistent in carrying out tasks which involved working independently. As many as 81 percent of the children, who were playing with money, performed task of going through the maze for at least two minutes. Among the remaining children, only half showed similar persistence" – reported the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in a press release.


Prof. Gąsiorowska explained that the world is so "tainted" with money that even small children understand the principles of a world based on money. "Under the influence of money, people switch from the vision of the world promoting close relationships to the world of market exchange, where +I+ and +my profits+ are at the centre" - explained Prof. Gąsiorowska.


The results obtained in children are very similar to the results of studies involving adults. Speaking about money, touching it, or even watching it causes people to become more persistent in carrying out individual tasks, but less generous or helpful. This is because independent work is an important value in the context of market exchange, closely linked with money, while generosity and kindness are typical for the world of close social relationships, which remains at odds with the world based on exchange.


"If even such small children who do not yet know the value of money, react to it like adults, it must be concluded that the money has two faces - one directly related to its economic value, buying or earning, and another, associated with its social or psychological meaning. It turns out that economic knowledge is not required to follow the non-economic significance. Money changes our world, even if you do not exactly know how to use it yet" - concluded the researcher.


Parents should also keep this in mind. "Children are excellent observers of reality, and they certainly learn from parents how money affects life. The way that parents treat money will also affect how their children will think about money" - said psychologist of the economy and co-author of the study, Prof. Tomasz Zaleśkiewicz - Dean of the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Wrocław.


The study was carried out by an international team of researchers composed of: Agata Gąsiorowska - University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Wrocław; Tomasz Zaleśkiewicz - University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Wrocław; Lan Nguyen Chaplin - University of Illinois in Chicago; Sandra Wygrab - University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Wrocław; Kathleen D. Vohs - University of Minnesota.


"For the study we searched for a group of persons for which we would be sure that on the one hand they participates in society and - at least to some extent - know the principles governing social life, and on the other hand do not have economic knowledge and do not understand the economic value of money. For this reason we chose children" - explained Prof. Gąsiorowska.


An article discussing the study results, titled "Money Cues Increase Agency and Decrease Prosociality Among Children: Early Signs of Market Mode Behaviors" will be published in Psychological Science. The study was financed by the National Science Centre and the Ministry of Science and Higher Education.


PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland


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