How money shapes our consciousness: part 1

On the nature of money

There are a growing number of studies that dive into the problem of how money changes the way we are and the way we see others. In one of them, psychologists at New York University found that wealthy people unconsciously pay less attention to the passersby on streets than do non-wealthy people. The psychologists sent 61 volunteers to wander the streets of New York City with Google Glass. To minimize the false positive outcomes, the participants were told they were testing this cutting-edge technology for any errors that might appear. Upon their return, the participants filled out forms as to which social class did they consider themselves. Further analysis of the videos has shown that wealthy people spend less time looking at passersby than those from the middle and lower classes.

New York Fashion Week • REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

In another experiment, the NYU researchers tested whether this lack of interest in others is due to a conscious decision or spontaneous cognitive reaction. They recruited about 400 participants to whom they showed a series of pictures. A pair of pictures appeared on a screen — a face and a random object. Each picture briefly came up on the screen and then was replaced by either an identical or nearly identical one. The pictures kept changing until the participant noticed a difference in the face or in the object. People self-identifying as less wealthy were significantly better at detecting the facial-expression changes; a sign, the researchers say, that faces held higher motivational relevance to them.

How can we understand this finding? One of the approaches of how to address this problem is via evolution and natural selection. From the breaking dawn of the dark ages people lived in tribes. And we still do. We belong to a herd type of species which forms societies. This means we love being with others, with groups of friends preferably. Moreover, a lot of times anxiety is aroused by the lack of contact with others.

To understand why is it so one has to bear in mind the severe conditions in which humans had to live for thousands of years. Being alone and disliked by others wasn’t the wised thing to do indeed. The tribe is basically a team, and if you aren’t popular you can’t play. So we did our best at being polite, friendly, at reading one’s facial expressions and at empathy: in order to be safer and better off. If you were to live and hunt on your own, you would probably be less successful, thus you would hardly get by. This dependency on relationships with others helped us to get through in the end. Those who decided to not obey this rule of socializing presumably didn’t do too well and so they partially died out.

So why do wealthy people unintentionally ignore this rule? Well, being loved and close to others implied being safe and better off. However, you can’t apply this logic today. Money has replaced this social need by achieving the very same goals. You suddenly don’t have to care about others or about your social image in the society. And if you don’t have to do something, you just don’t do it (the law of saving as much energy as we can, in other words laziness…maybe I’ll address this topic next time).

Does it mean that only rich people aremoney-priming spell? Well…not really, we’ll look into that next time!

Thanks for reading & spread the word.