October 12, 2010

Thinking About Time and Money

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Everyone is familiar with the saying time equals money.  But a new study takes that phrase, and puts a twist on it by showing that thinking about time equals spending more time with others, while thinking about money actually equals spending more hours working.  It's an experiment that shines a light on why people may spend more time on the clock or more time on the phone.

In an attempt to find out how thinking about time or money makes people feel, Cassie Mogilner of the University of Pennsylvania designed an experiment, carried out online with adults from all parts of the United States, in which they focus on either money or time.  The experiment involved volunteers unscrambling a series of sentences containing words related to time (e.g., "time" and "day"), or others related to money (e.g., "wealth" and "dollar").  Subsequently, the participants were asked how they planned to spend their next 24 hours.  The individuals primed to think about time planned to spend more time socializing with their friends and family, while the others who were primed to thinking about money planned to spend more time working, working, and -- surprisingly -- working.

Mogilner additionally carried out the experiment on low-income people.  She found that having them think about time had the same effect as the previous study, however having them think about money did not.  This may mean that low-income people already live with financial worries and, as a result, exceedingly focused on making more money.

However, Mogilner wanted to test the effect in the real world, seeing how people in due course spent their time.  Her research team approached people going into a campus caf© and asked them to take part in a questionnaire, which included the aforementioned word-scrambling task that primed them with thoughts of time or money.  These same participants were then watched to see how they spent their time after completing the word-scramble -- whether chatting it up with other social butterflies, or staying focused in a cocoon of work and diligence.  When they left the caf©, they filled out a second questionnaire regarding how happy and satisfied they felt.  The results were similar: people who were primed to think about time spent more of it socializing with others, and remained happier; while individuals primed with money spent more time with their noses in their books and dollar signs in their eyes, and were moreover less happy.

Although focusing on money motivates people to work more, the actual aspect involved in making that money (i.e. work) generally results in making that individual less happy.  Spending time with loved ones does, and thinking about time might motivate people to pursue these social connections.  "There is so much discussion and focus on money, optimal ways to spend and save it, and the relationship between money and happiness," says Mogilner.  "We're often ignoring the ultimately more important resource, which is time."  The study does not suggest that people stop working altogether, but instead make more time for friends and family.

SOURCE: Psychological Science, October 2010