Fall 2016

The psychology of money

Kathleen Vohs, Distinguished McKnight University Professor and Land O’Lakes Chair in Marketing, Carlson School of Management

Ask Kathleen Vohs about her research, and she’ll tell you she studies “all the interesting things in life.” And what interests her the most is the psychology of experiment, some children sorted consumption: how and why people eat, drink, spend, save, and feel. 

As a Distinguished McKnight University Professor and Land O’Lakes Chair in Marketing at the U of M’s Carlson School of Management, Vohs recently published research suggesting that children as young as 3 years old are affected by handling money. In one experiment, some children sorted coins while others sorted buttons or candy. They were then asked to complete a difficult maze and were given the opportunity to share stickers with kids who had none.

The results? Kids who had sorted money worked longer and harder on the maze than kids who had sorted other objects, but were less generous in giving away stickers.

In follow-up research around the world with both kids and adults, Vohs continues to find similar patterns. “It tells us what behavior we can expect to see when money is on people’s minds,” she says. “If you motivate people with money, you might expect them to do well on individual tasks, but not on cooperative tasks.”

Watch a video about Kathleen Vohs' research: