Money influences our perception
The Sunflower Foundation regularly hosts panel discussions on the subject of money, with participants representing various academic disciplines. As a psychologist, I have taken part in these exchanges and one thing seems clear: money, to a degree, determines how we think. I’d even go a step further and say that our thinking is governed by how we see things, that is, by our perceptions.
With a small experiment, already over fifty years old, I’d like to demonstrate that our money really influences our perceptions and, thus, so is our thinking.
How big is a Five-Franc-Piece?
It’s relatively simple to estimate the size of a five-franc coin (originally the experiment was done with a five-mark coin). Subjects were asked, “How big is this coin?” Of course, it’s also easy to misjudge the size of a coin. Some thought it was smaller than it really is; others guessed it was larger. In itself, that’s not very surprising. We’re not all masters at estimating the size of an object. But the experiment did show one remarkable trend: People from the lower end of the economic spectrum consistently judged the coin larger than did people from the upper end of the spectrum.
The social status influences our perception
In other words, estimates of the coin’s size were influenced by participants’ relative wealth. The less affluent thought the coin was larger while the more affluent underestimated the coin’s size. Of course, it was worth more to the less well off, while the wealthy found the coin less interesting, less useful. This led them to consistently underestimate the coin’s size.
What distinguishes our social values and our culture?
This is a theme at Sunflower’s panel discussions: How widely money influences our perception, in thought and in actions, and what distinguishes our social values and our culture.