Money Makes You Cheat, Time Makes You Honest

If you want to encourage someone to cheat, make them think about money. However, If you want them to be honest, encourage them to think about time instead.

That’s the gist of a new study published in Psychological Science, which found that people primed to think about money cheated quite a lot, whereas people primed to think about time didn’t cheat as much.

Researchers designed a series of simple puzzles, including word jumbles, counting games, and searches for song lyrics, with the aim of implicitly suggesting money, time, or something neutral. For example, a word jumble priming a subject to think about money might include words like “dividend”, or “bank”, whereas one priming for time might use “wait” or “watch”. Subjects solving these puzzles had financial incentive to solve as many as possible, and by using worksheets that appeared anonymous, researchers make it easy to cheat. However, unbeknownst to the participants, each worksheet was marked with a series of unique numbers, allowing researchers to compare how many problems participants said they completed versus how many they actually competed.

Very clearly, the people primed to think about money were more likely to cheat.

In the money group, 87.5% of the participants cheated, versus 66.7% for the control group. The group primed to think about time, by contrast, only had 42.4% cheat.

Researches suggest that thinking about time seems to encourage people to “notice that how they spend their time sums up to their life as a whole, encouraging them to act in ways they can be proud of when holding up this mirror to who they are.”

The lesson here? Don’t trust someone with money on their mind.


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