Giving Children Money Makes Them Work Harder — But There’s a Catch

The mere act of handling money causes children as young as 3-years-old to take more and give less, according to new research.

A study conducted by researchers from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management and University of Illinois at Chicago found that the positive and negative effects of handling cash occurred even in children who did not know what money was used for.

“Money is a double-edged sword. It produces good outcomes in terms of concentration and effort, but bad outcomes when it comes to helping, taking, and donating,” Kathleen Vohs, a co-author of the study, said in a statement.

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To see how handling money impacted children’s behavior, the researchers conducted five experiments and one study on 550 children aged 3-6 in Poland and the United States.

In one of the experiments, children were asked to either sort money or buttons before attempting to solve a puzzle. More of the children who had handled money spent at least two minutes trying to complete the puzzle (73%) than those who had sorted buttons (56%).

Another experiment found that preschoolers who had sorted money were less helpful in collecting crayons for another child when asked than preschoolers who had sorted buttons.

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To test whether candy could alter children’s responses the way money does, the researchers told children who had sorted money, buttons or candy they could take up to six Disney-themed stickers. Money was still unique in its effects: all of the children who sorted money took at least three stickers, while only 78% of those who sorted candy and 76% of those who sorted buttons took the same.

Additionally, when the children in the sticker experiment were told they could share their stickers with other children who didn’t participate, the children who sorted money gave up only half as many stickers as those who had sorted candy or buttons.

“Money is a vital component of cultural life,” study co-author Lan Chaplin said. “Our findings with children as young as 3 years old suggest potentially significant implications for achievement, generosity, and interpersonal harmony.”

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A separate study released in June found that ostracized workers who contemplated money were more likely to be helpful toward coworkers than ostracized workers who did not.

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