Does thinking of money makes us less helpful and more hard-working

So it seems, at least according to the recently published article by Kathleen Vohs, Nicole L. Mead, and Miranda R. Goode (2008) Merely Activating the Concept of Money Changes Personal and Interpersonal Behavior , Current Directions in Psychological Science , Volume 17 Issue 3, Pages 208 – 212).

Here is the abstract:

Money plays a significant role in people’s lives, and yet little experimental attention has been given to the psychological underpinnings of money. We systematically varied whether and to what extent the concept of money was activated in participants’ minds using methods that minimized participants’ conscious awareness of the money cues. On the one hand, participants reminded of money were less helpful than were participants not reminded of money, and they also preferred solitary activities and less physical intimacy. On the other hand, reminders of money prompted participants to work harder on challenging tasks and led to desires to take on more work as compared to participants not reminded of money. In short, even subtle reminders of money elicit big changes in human behavior.”

The concept of money was activated in the participants via four different manipulations. The first had participants play monopoly and being given at the end of the game different amounts of money “for later” before moving to another task. The second manipulation asked participants to imagine life with either abundant or limited finances. In the third manipulation participants had to organize phrases that were or were not related to money. The fourth and last manipulation made participants sit near images of cash or neutral images. The authors found that all of these manipulations had similar effects.

The authors underline that the emotional states reported by participants did not seem to be affected by whether they were reminded of money or not. This suggests that the results are unlikely to depend on emotional impacts of money on making participants less trustful, more anxious, or prideful. The authors believe that the explanation does not lie in money making people more selfish or greedy. In fact, exposure to money clues did not make participants more likely to ask for help when given a tough assignment nor more likely to reject more work than was necessary.

The authors conclude:

We are eager to explore the idea that money leads to a perspective on the world that emphasizes inputs and outputs with an expectation of equity (cf. Fiske, 1991)—a perspective that would emphasize performance and, consequently, may harm interpersonal sensitivity.” (p. 211).

See also the earlier article “The Psychological Consequences of Money,” Kathleen D. Vohs, Nicole Mead, and Miranda Goode, Science (2006). Nov. 17, 2006.

Pointer by Greg Mankiw and comment by Peter Singer.

Workshop for teaching assistants

I am organizing a three-hour workshop for teaching assistants. The workshop is meant to be their first introduction to teaching. If anyone has organized anything similar, I would love to exchange ideas. Below is a list of links for the workshops. If anyone has comments, suggestions, etc. they are very welcome!

Useful links – this list is compiled having in mind parsimony assuming that TAs will have little time and find a short list more useful.

I am not aware of any other handbooks for teaching economics, that are freely available on the internet. There are however several handbooks for teaching assistants.

Also excellent is the site

and the

Discussion lists

  • Tch-econ discussion list From the description of the discussion list: “This is a place to discuss ideas related to the teaching of economics. We particularly concentrate on undergraduate university-level teaching, but do occasionally foray into graduate or secondary-school teaching. This is also a place to make contacts and form collaborative teams to work on projects related to the scholarship of teaching and to multi-campus collaborative efforts. “

Peer-reviewed journals on economic education

Becker and Posner on Obesity and Externalities

Becker and Posner discuss in a recent post if it is justified for intervene in the fast food industries by introducing bans on trans fats or by requiring fast food chains to post on menus the calorie content of the food they serve as New York City as recently done.

I found particularly stimulating Becker’s critical take on whether it is appropriate to view obesity as imposing an externality on others. Here’s an excerpt from Becker’s post:

The so-called externality results from the fact that greater obesity raises taxes on others because the medical bills of the obese are partly paid by general taxpayers due to subsidized medical care. As Posner points out, this argument may be weak because obese adults die earlier than others and in this way obesity saves medical costs. However, even if true, I am uneasy about such externality arguments. Typical true externalities occur when actions by one individual or firm directly harm others, as when pollution by a company worsens the health of inhabitants, or when a drunk driver crashes into another car and injuries or kills the driver and passengers of that car.

But the alleged “externality” with regard to obesity is due only to the government’s subsidy of medical expenditures, so that it is a case of one government intervention- justified or not- causing another intervention-control of eating. It is not a path of intervention causation that most people would be comfortable with in many situations. For example, since the government subsidizes the medical care of children of poorer parents, a mechanical application of this type of externality argument would say that this justifies governmental control over the number of children that poor parents can have. Additional children of these families create an “externality” by raising taxes on others to pay for the medical costs of these children. Many similar examples can be given where government regulations and other government programs cause certain types of behavior that raise taxes or subsidies and adversely affect taxpayers, even though there would be no externality from this behavior in the absence of the government programs.