Touching Money Makes Kids Less Helpful, According to Researchers

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It should come as little surprise that money can influence the way we behave. Research has proven that dealing with dollars and cents can make people less helpful and less charitable, among other things. But it turns out money doesn’t just affect how adults act—It also has an impact on small children.

Researchers Lan Nguyen Chaplin, Kathleen Vohs, and Agata Gasiorowska recently conducted a series of experiments on the ways in which simply handling currency can affect the behavior of young children. They published a synopsis of their findings in Scientific American today.

According to the researchers, handling money affects the way even very young children, who don’t yet understand the difference between a nickel and a dime, interact with others and tackle challenges. Researchers found that children were more successful at problem-solving tasks immediately after handling money—but they were also less willing to be helpful.

In a series of five experiments, researchers tested how kids in Poland and the U.S. between the ages of 3 and 6 acted after performing tasks involving money. In one experiment, one group of kids was asked to sort currency, while another sorted buttons by color. Afterwards, both groups were asked to solve a maze. Researchers found that currency sorters worked longer and were more successful at maze-solving than button sorters.

But in another experiment, one group sorted coins and bills, while another sorted paper and buttons. Afterwards, researchers asked both groups to help them by filling a box with crayons. They found that, overall, the children tasked with handling money were less helpful than those who handled paper and buttons.

Other experiments corroborated these findings, researchers say. Whether children were asked to sort bills, or merely hold them, whether they were tasked with collecting crayons or helping to clean a classroom, children who had recently handled money were consistently less helpful than those who had not.

Researchers believe these findings not only reveal the degree to which money affects human action from a young age, but how sophisticated young children’s understanding of the world may be—even if they’re not yet able to communicate that understanding.

“Young children show evidence of some remarkably advanced complex concepts such as justice, religion, and physics,” the researchers explain. “Despite not being able to articulate it, children’s minds have formed adult-like connections for these concepts. Money, for good or bad, can be added to this list.”

[h/t Scientific American]

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