Does handling money make you a bad person?

I visited Erasmus University on a sabbatical visit. While there, I interviewed some of the faculty about their research. Here is the second interview, where I asked marketing professor Nicole Mead about her research on money

Does handling money make you a bad person?

So there you have it: It depends on whether the money is clean or dirty. Dirty money leads to bad behavior.

The paper: Yang, Qing, Wu, Xiaochang, Zhou, Xinyue, Mead, Nicole L., Vohs, Kathleen D. & Baumeister, Roy F. (Forthcoming). Diverging effects of clean versus dirty money on attitudes, values, and interpersonal behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology


Does the cue of money lead to selfish, greedy, exploitative behaviors or to fairness, exchange, and reciprocity? We found evidence for both, suggesting that people have both sets of meaningful associations, which can be differentially activated by exposure to clean versus dirty money. In a field experiment at a farmers’ market, vendors who handled dirty money subsequently cheated customers, whereas those who handled clean money gave fair value (Experiment 1). In laboratory studies with economic games, participants who had previously handled and counted dirty money tended toward selfish, unfair practices— unlike those who had counted clean money or dirty paper, both of which led to fairness and reciprocity. These patterns were found with the trust game (Experiment 2), the prisoner’s dilemma (Experiment 4), the ultimatum game (Experiment 5), and the dictator game (Experiment 6). Cognitive measures indicated that exposure to dirty money lowered moral standards (Experiment 3) and reduced positive attitudes toward fairness and reciprocity (Experiments 6–7), whereas exposure to clean money had the opposite effects. Thus, people apparently have 2 contradictory sets of associations (including behavioral tendencies) to money, which is a complex, powerful, and ubiquitous aspect of human social life and cultural organization.