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Would you do something for me? The effects of money activation on social preferences and social behavior in young children


  • Gasiorowska, Agata
  • Zaleskiewicz, Tomasz
  • Wygrab, Sandra


The research presented in this paper shows that merely activating the idea of money affects the social behavior and social preferences of young children who do not understand the economic functions of money. From an economic point of view, money is universal, instrumental, and can be defined by the functions that it provides. From the psychological point of view, money is more symbolic and emotional than instrumental, and can serve as social resource in interpersonal and intrapersonal regulation. These effects of money are connected with its symbolic, rather than its instrumental, nature. To test whether the symbolic and instrumental meanings of money are developing at appropriate ages, we conducted two experiments on 5–8year olds. After money activation, children were more selfish in economic games, revealing less prosocial preferences and were less prone to help the experimenter than children from the control group. Even if children at this stage do not understand the economic mechanisms of money and are not able to use money properly in the instrumental context, they react to symbolic activation. This might imply that the symbolic meaning of money is more primal than the instrumental meaning.

Suggested Citation

  • Gasiorowska, Agata & Zaleskiewicz, Tomasz & Wygrab, Sandra, 2012. "Would you do something for me? The effects of money activation on social preferences and social behavior in young children," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 33(3), pages 603-608.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:joepsy:v:33:y:2012:i:3:p:603-608
    DOI: 10.1016/j.joep.2011.11.007

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Gino, Francesca & Pierce, Lamar, 2009. "The abundance effect: Unethical behavior in the presence of wealth," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 109(2), pages 142-155, July.
    2. Leiser, David & Sevon, Guje & Levy, Daphna, 1990. "Children's economic socialization: Summarizing the cross-cultural comparison of ten countries," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 11(4), pages 591-614, December.
    3. Ernst Fehr & Urs Fischbacher, 2002. "Why Social Preferences Matter -- The Impact of Non-Selfish Motives on Competition, Cooperation and Incentives," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(478), pages 1-33, March.
    4. Belk, Russell W. & Wallendorf, Melanie, 1990. "The sacred meanings of money," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 11(1), pages 35-67, March.
    5. Leiser, David, 1983. "Children's conceptions of economics -- The constitution of a cognitive domain," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 4(4), pages 297-317, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Kidd, Michael & Nicholas, Aaron & Rai, Birendra, 2013. "Tournament outcomes and prosocial behaviour," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 39(C), pages 387-401.
    2. Gasiorowska, Agata, 2012. "Psychologiczne skutki aktywacji idei pieniędzy a obdarowywanie bliskich
      [The psychological consequences of mere exposure to money and gift-giving]
      ," MPRA Paper 48170, University Library of Munich, Germany.

    More about this item


    Money; Children; Interpersonal relations; Social preferences;

    JEL classification:

    • D01 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Microeconomic Behavior: Underlying Principles
    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles


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