Just thinking about money can corrupt you

June 17, 2013: 4:21 AM ET
unethical money
When money is on your mind, you may be more likely to act unethically.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

Simply thinking about money can trigger people to lie, steal and make unethical decisions, new research shows.

People who have just seen images of money or phrases about money are more likely to do something unethical like steal paper from their office because they ran out of paper at home. They're more apt to hire a candidate who says he will share confidential insider information about his former company. And if it means winning money, they're more likely to lie to get it.

These results come from four studies conducted by researchers at Harvard University and University of Utah. There were 324 participants overall, and to get a group of the participants to subconsciously think about money, researchers showed them images of currency or asked them to unscramble words to form money-related phrases.

Related: Young Americans are ditching credit cards

"Across all of these studies we found that participants who were merely exposed to the concept of money were more likely to demonstrate unethical intentions, decisions, and behavior than participants in a control condition," said Kristin Smith-Crowe, one of the study's authors and an associate professor at the University of Utah's David Eccles School of Business.

Why? Because the exposure to money puts participants in a business mind frame -- leading them to make business decisions based on monetary benefits and big payoffs instead of morals, the study found.

Related: How to talk about money before saying 'I do'

When it comes to real world implications, the findings indicate that everyday exposure to money may be influencing peoples' actions and decisions more than we think.

"These findings suggest that money is a more insidious corrupting factor than previously appreciated, as mere, subtle exposure to money can be a corrupting influence," the study concludes.

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