I’ve been looking into pitching a possible TV show idea to the W Network revolving around the psychology of money and I thought I would share with you a study that I found interesting.
Some psychologists prepared an experiment in which test subjects were asked to perform a mind-numblingly boring task. In this case, they had to click and drag an object on a computer screen from one side of the screen to the other and then repeat over and over again. The experimenters measured the number of times this was accomplished during a five minute time span.
In experiment 1 there were three groups of subjects. Group one was told they would be paid $5 for the task, Group 2 was told they would receive 50 cents, and Group three was asked to perform the task as a favour to one of the experimenters. Group one had on average moved the object 159 times. Group 2, who were paid less, moved the object about 101 times on average. As you can imagine, this would support the notion that the higher the financial reward, the more motivation is generated. But a funny thing happened with Group 3 – they moved 168 objects on average – about the same as the $5 group. This could be explained by a different thought process in which operating in a social context (being asked a favour) is different from operating in a financial context (relative reward).
They ran the exact same experiment but this time they chose “social” rewards for all three groups. Group 1 received $5 in fancy Godiva chocolates, Group 2 received a 50 cent chocolate bar and Group 3 was again asked to perform the task as a favour. This time, all three groups scored in the 160s – or in other words, performed about the same. By changing the context from one of financial reward to social reward (money replaced with gifts) the results changed and in this case it really was the thought that counts, not so much the actual reward.
So we can see that our behaviour is influenced by the framework in which we are working. If we are operating with our “financial” mind we behave differently than when we are operating with our “social” mind. There are many ramifications of this finding as it relates to decisions people make about “money” versus “financial goals”.