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Money priming affects consumers' need for uniqueness.

Having money improves control over one's life and allows one to avoid the effects of misfortune or unforeseen occurrences (Johnson & Krueger, 2006). Individuals who are poor feel depressed, develop poor health, or have a sense of lack of control (Vohs, Mead, & Goode, 2006). Aside from being an exchange medium or a store of value, money symbolizes resources of different forms (Vohs et al., 2006), such as security, self-confidence, freedom, power, and social resources. Researchers have shown that priming with money affects individuals' way of thinking, behavioral choices, and preferences (Beus & Whitman, 2015; Mok & De Cremer, 2016; Tong, Zheng, & Zhao, 2013; Vohs et al., 2006).

People generally pay more attention to personalized consumption in order to exhibit different demands in commodity selection (Berger & Heath, 2007). Already having wealth raises the consumption need for uniqueness, whereas many people who lack wealth are motivated by price considerations. A related issue that has received little scholarly attention is whether being primed with the psychological concept of money or wealth affects individuals' need for uniqueness. Therefore, our aim was to explore the effect of money priming on consumers' need for uniqueness.

Theoretical Background and Hypotheses

The Concept of Money

Money refers to a distinct economic concept, and individuals primed with money have been found to have lower social connectedness (Capaldi & Zelenski, 2016) and willingness to help others, prefer to work or engage in leisure activities alone, and show a tendency to work harder (Vohs, Mead, & Goode, 2008). However, those primed with money experience less pressure caused by social exclusion, that is, an act of making certain groups of people within a society feel isolated and unimportant (Zhou, Vohs, & Baumeister, 2009). Money concept also influences individual preferences for enjoyment. For example, Quoidbach, Dunn, Petrides, and Mikolajczak (2010) found that individuals had less preference for chocolate and spent less time thinking about the taste of chocolate when money concept was primed. Consumers primed with money tend to choose utilitarian products over hedonic ones (Tong et al., 2013). Further, money priming influences individual preferences for authoritative advice, such that those who are primed with money prefer to play alone, work alone, and put more physical distance between themselves and a new acquaintance (Vohs et al., 2006).

In studying the effect of money priming on individual endowment behavior, Liu and Aaker (2008) found that being motivated or stimulated by money inspires people's ways of thinking to maximize benefit. This causes people to consider carefully whether or not their endowment provides them with measurable economic interest, and they hope to calculate accurately the obtained value of their purchases. Mogilner and Aaker (2009) found that individuals primed with money are likely to think about questions rationally. Finally, Hansen, Kutzner, and Wanke (2013) found that individuals with money priming are likely to interpret events through abstract psychological thought and prefer abstract behaviors, tending to identify an overall visual framework, and preferring to focus on the core attributes of a product.

Money Concept and Need for Uniqueness

The need for uniqueness is associated with Snyder and Fromkin's (1977) uniqueness theory, according to which this need arises when an individual feels that his or her distinctiveness is threatened and, therefore, makes an effort to distinguish himself or herself from others. This need is also reflected in consumption, whereby consumers prefer to buy unique products that highlight their difference from others. The need for uniqueness of consumers has two forms, independence, which means that consumers are not influenced by the group (Schlosser, 2009), and counterconformity, which implies that consumers pursue freedom and personal goals (Berger & Heath, 2007).

According to self-sufficiency theory, money priming makes individuals more independent, encourages them to actively pursue personal goals and freedom, and prompts them to behave in a way that is contrary to social norms. Vohs et al. (2008) found that mere reminders of money elicit a self-sufficient state wherein people seek the freedom to pursue their own goals and become indifferent to the presence and actions of others. In addition, such individuals feel negatively toward imitators because they believe that similarity is a threat. On the basis of these findings, we proposed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 1: Consumers who are primed with money will have a stronger need for uniqueness than will those who do not receive such priming.

Money concept can reinforce self-confidence and allow individuals to perceive that they are rich, powerful, and have higher self-efficacy (Zhou et al., 2009). However, Hansen and colleagues (2013) argued that meanings conveyed by money concept moderate this effect. For instance, receiving a small amount of money tends to make people think about costs and spending rather than causing them to perceive wealth. Duclos, Wan, and Jiang (2013) suggested that money concept enhances the ability of an individual to handle life without depending on others. However, having less money reduces a person's self-efficacy and increases his or her perception of pressure and difficulty. Thus, differences have been observed in the two types of behavior when individuals are primed with a large or small amount of money. Further, individuals with nonmoney priming were found to spend less time finishing a difficult task than were people primed by more money (Vohs et al., 2006), and they exhibited more moral behavior (Gino & Pierce, 2009). Therefore, we proposed the following hypothesis: Hypothesis 2: The meaning of money linked to the amount will moderate the effect of money concept on the need for uniqueness, and consumers primed with more money will have a stronger need for uniqueness than will those primed with less money.

Vohs et al. (2006) argued that individuals who place great importance on money have poorer interpersonal relationships compared to those who have less attachment to money. Liu et al. (2012) presented the hypothesis of indifference, in which it is stated that people primed with money are less influenced by society and less willing to establish close relationships with others. Thus, people with money priming are less willing to help and to accept help from others (Zhou et al., 2009)--that is, they perceive greater social distance from others.

Ledgerwood, Trope, and Chaiken (2010) discussed conformity and obedience and suggested that individuals who perceive little social distance, namely, when activities representing a higher level of construal are perceived as occurring at greater social distance and vice versa, are more open to the opinions of others and exhibit greater conformity. Schlosser (2009) studied the effect of computer media communication on conformity behavior and found that when visual information is displayed, individuals perceive little social distance between themselves and others, and may be more likely to agree with the opinions of group members. By contrast, individuals tend to perceive greater social distance and stand by their opinions when nonvisual information is displayed. Therefore, we posited that consumers with money priming would perceive greater social distance, thus increasing their need for uniqueness, and we formed the following hypothesis: Hypothesis 3: Social distance will mediate the effect of money concept on consumers' need for uniqueness.

Study 1


Participants and procedure. In this study, we sought to demonstrate that money priming increases the need for counterconformity, as a form of uniqueness, (Berger & Heath, 2007) among consumers. The method of money priming was developed with reference to Mogilner and Aaker (2009) and a between-subjects design (money priming vs. control) was adopted. None of the participants knew the purpose of the priming task in the experiment. We randomly assigned 66 Master of Business Administration students (35 males and 31 females) to one of the two groups. Participants' ages ranged from 25 to 46 years (M = 31.54, SD = 3.87).

Participants were informed that they were taking part in a study about selection experience. We showed 20 words related to money and wealth, such as "wealth," "expensive," "rich," "treasury," "bank checks," "billionaire," "jewelry," and "gold," to participants in the experimental group, and asked them to write a sentence that included several words they had seen to better inspire their money concept. We then showed 20 non-money-related words, such as "thin," "friends," "windows," "apology," "playground," and "jasmine," to the control group. Participants in this group were also requested to write a sentence that included several words they had seen.

After completing the priming task, the participants were informed that they would receive a key chain as a reward for taking part in the experiment. We showed them pictures of Cool and Hot, which are fictitious key chain brands created for this study. The two brands had identical prices, functions, and material quality. In addition, the participants were informed that 72% of the individuals in the prior experiment had chosen the brand Cool, whereas 28% had chosen Hot. Next, the participants were asked to choose one of the two brands, and the result was recorded.

Measures. We measured their emotion by adopting two 10-item mood scales from Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS; Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988). These were difficulty of evaluation, with a 7-point scale from 1 (not difficult at all) to 7 (very difficult), and perceived product performance by using a 7-point scale from 1 (very bad) to 7 (very good). We recorded their actual monthly income. Finally, the reward was given to the participants.


In this study, we analyzed the effect of money priming on consumers' need for uniqueness. Experimental conditions were regarded as independent variables and brand choice as the dependent variable. Binary logistic regression was conducted and the results show that money priming had a significant influence on participants' brand choice, [chi square](1) = 4.21, p < .05. The proportion of the participants in the group with money priming who chose the brand Hot (67.65%, 23/34) was significantly higher than that in the control group (36.36%, 12/33), [chi square] (1) = 4.30, p < .05. Thus, individuals with money priming exhibited reduced conformity behavior and greater need for uniqueness.

In addition, participants' need for uniqueness cannot be explained by emotion, product performance, facility value of processing information, or actual income level, because these factors were not significantly different across both groups. The results were as follows. The facility value of processing information, [ priming] = 4.50 versus Mcontt0l = 4.73, t(65) = 0.49, p > .05; emotion, [ priming] = 3.12 versus [M.sub.control] = 3.27, t(65) = 0.73, p > .05; perception of product performance, [ priming] = 4.29 versus [M.sub.control] = 4.36, t(65) = 0.22, p > .05; and income level, [ priming] = 4.18 versus [M.sub.control] = 4.31, t(65) = 0.387, p > .05.

The above results show that money priming significantly influenced participants' brand choice. Relative to the control group, individuals with money priming exhibited reduced conformity behavior and greater need for uniqueness, which supports Hypothesis 1.

Study 2


Procedure. Our purpose in this study was to test the moderating effect of the meaning of money on the relationship between money concept and the need for uniqueness. The choice of an innovative product was applied to reflect the need for uniqueness, in that consumers aim to show that they are different from others by selecting a unique product (Imhoff & Erb, 2009). We followed the practice of money priming that was introduced by Hansen et al. (2013), whereby large bills signal more money, and small bills signal less money. We posited that the money concept of consumers primed with large bills would be stronger than that of consumers primed with small bills, because the stimulus of priming with small bills would not meet the need for uniqueness of people with a lack of resources (Hansen et al., 2013). The experimental materials were two vacuum cups (A and B) of the same price and material but with different shapes; Cup A has an ordinary shape and Cup B has a unique shape, that is, the handle of its lid is set at a 45[degrees] angle. A pretest was conducted with 34 undergraduates to ensure the unique perception of Cup B, using a 7-point rating scale from 1 (do not agree at all) to 7 (completely agree). The result suggested that there was a significant difference between the two cups, [M.sub.CupA] = 3.55 versus [M.sub.CupB] = 5.92, t(33) = 6.79, p < .01; Cup B was perceived as less ordinary than Cup A was.

Participants and measures. Using leaflet advertising, we recruited 213 undergraduate volunteers (103 males, 110 females) at Huazhong University of Science and Technology who took part in exchange for course credit. Their ages ranged from 19 to 25 years (M = 20.38, SD = 1.65). A between-subjects design was adopted (more money vs. less money vs. control) and participants were randomly assigned to one of the three groups. Large bills were shown to the group with more money, for example, RMB100 (US$15.4) or a large amount on a check. Small bills were shown to the group with less money, for example, an RMB0.01 (US$0.0015) cent coin or small notes. Nothing was shown to the control group. After the priming task was complete, all participants carried out a selection task. They were told that their reward would not be course credit, but a vacuum cup. Pictures of vacuum cups were shown to the participants, who were told that the price and material were the same but the shapes were different, then they were asked to choose their preferred cup. After completing these tasks, participants were asked to evaluate the perceived risk of this selection task (Liang & He, 2012) by using a 7-point scale from 1 (not risky at all) to 7 (very risky) and the degree of effort involved in choosing (Baumeister, 2002) by using a 7-point scale from 1 (not difficult at all) to 7 (very difficult).


More participants from the group with more money chose the unique product (Cup B, 69.44%; 50/72) than did those in either the control group (47.44%; 37/78), [chi square](1) = 7.44, p < .01, or the group with less money (50.82%; 31/61), [chi square] (1) = 4.81, p < .05. Further, there was no significant difference between the group with less money and the control group, [chi square] (1) = 0.04, p > .05.

In addition, the result of preferential selection of an innovative product cannot be explained by the participants' perceived risk and effort level, because these were not significantly different among the three groups. The detailed results are as follows. Perceived risk, [M.sub.more money] = 3.33 versus [M.sub.control] = 3.43, t(148) = 0.45, p > .05; versus MleSS money = 3.45, t(131) = 0.56, p > .05, effort level: [M.sub.more money] = 5.58 versus [M.sub.control] = 6.03, t(148) = 6.76, p > .05; versus Mless money = 5.91, t(l3l) = 6.76, p > .05.

The results suggest that significant differences exist among the group with more money, the group with less money, and the control group. However, no significant difference was found between the group with less money and the control group. Hypothesis 2 is, therefore, supported.

Study 3


Procedure. In this study, we tested the mediating effect of social distance in the relationship between money concept and consumers' need for uniqueness. The choice of an innovative product was adopted to measure the need for uniqueness and we utilized the method of money priming that was used by Hansen et al. (2013). In this study, the experimental material was biscuits, which are usually round or square shaped. Round biscuits were chosen to represent the ordinary category, and skull-shaped biscuits were used as the unique category. The two types of biscuits, which had identical ingredients and weights, were custom made by a local biscuit manufacturer. As in Study 2, a pretest was conducted with 29 participants to test the uniqueness of both products, using a scale from 1 (do not agree at all) to 7 (completely agree). The uniqueness of the two types of biscuits differed significantly, [M.sub.skull] = 4.11 versus [M.sub.round] = 2.77, t(28) = 4.23, p < .01.

Participants and measures. Using leaflet advertising, we recruited 98 undergraduate volunteers of Huazhong University of Science and Technology (43 males and 55 females) ranging in age from 17 to 25 years (M = 20.27, SD = 1.57). A between-subjects design was adopted (money priming vs. control) and the participants were randomly assigned to one of the two groups. A credit card and a picture of cash were shown to the money priming group. Furthermore, to ensure better money priming concept, participants were asked to advise which payment method they prefer to use. Pictures of a radio and a CD player were shown to the control group and they were asked which piece of equipment they prefer. The two types of biscuit were then presented and participants were allowed to choose one of the biscuits as a reward; however, the participants had to wait until the end of the experiment to receive the biscuits. The shape of the selected biscuit was recorded. Participants' social distance from others was measured by using three items of Jones (2004), rated on a 7-point scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree), "I have some similarities with them," "I can deal well with them," and "I have similar views to them." Cronbach's a was .87. Finally, the experiment was complete and the participants received their biscuits.


Significantly more participants in the group with money priming chose unique biscuits (75.93%; 41/54) compared to the control group (47.23%; 21/44), [chi square](1) = 6.16, p < .05. Thus, the money priming concept was found to increase participants' need for uniqueness.

Relative to the control group, the group with money priming perceived greater social distance, [ priming] = 4.95 money; [M.sub.control] = 3.73, t(96) = 4.45, p < .01; thus, priming with money resulted in interpersonal alienation. We adopted the testing procedure of Zhao, Lynch, and Chen (2010) and the bootstrapping method of Hayes (2013) to test the mediating effect of social distance. The estimated value of the mediating effect of social distance had a sample size of 5,000, 95% CI [0.86, 3.35]. The test result does not contain 0, and is significant at p < .05; thus, the mediation effect was significant (1.89, p < .01). The effect of money priming on the need for uniqueness became nonsignificant when the mediator was controlled for. The estimated value of influence was 95% CI [-1.26, 1.07], p > .05. Thus, social distance completely mediated the effect of money priming on the need for uniqueness, and Hypothesis 3 is also supported.


Our results showed that relative to nonmoney reminders, individuals primed with money exhibited reduced conformity behavior and greater need for uniqueness. In practice, people's consumption behaviors are affected by interpersonal relationships, which may lead to consumption demands of "keeping up with the Joneses." Knowing that money priming will contribute to their control of such demands, consumers primed by money could pay more attention to their own capability and the target rather than the thoughts and behaviors of others, thus becoming more independent and increasing their level of self-control. This will contribute to managing their consumption behaviors (Tong et al., 2013). In addition, our results suggest that consumers primed by money can be motivated by an intense need for uniqueness. When advertising products with unique characteristics, marketers should display some symbols of wealth, so that potential consumers will accept them more readily and the product sales will increase.

We also demonstrated that the meaning of money linked to the amount moderated the effect of money concept on the need for uniqueness, and that consumers primed with more money had a stronger need for uniqueness than did those primed with less money. Social distance was found to mediate the influence of money priming on the need for uniqueness. That is, consumers with money priming perceived that they were alienated from others, which increased their need for uniqueness. This result extends the finding of Hansen and colleagues (2013) that meanings linked to the amount of money moderate the effect of money concept on individuals' need for uniqueness. This increased need for uniqueness manifests as counterconformity and innovative behavior in product selection. Such behaviors help individuals to regulate their consumption behaviors; that is, they conform less to consumption trends and instead opt for unique products. In addition, our result that the social distance completely mediates the effect of money priming on the need for uniqueness extends the finding of Schlosser (2009).

Our relatively small sample size and demographic characteristics of participants are possible limitations. Undergraduate students are typically younger and have a lower income than do established workers who have held paying jobs for many years, which means that the money priming effect may be different for undergraduates than it is for other populations. This and the small sample size may contribute to a lack of generalizability of our findings to other groups, a point to be considered in relation to our recommendations.

We tested consumers' counterconformity and the selection of innovative products in relation to their need for uniqueness. However, the need for uniqueness of an individual involves many aspects. For example, Schlosser (2009) argued that uniqueness also entails choosing a nonprevailing option and the behavior of avoiding similarity. A question that needs to be addressed is whether or not money priming affects consumers' preferences. Another question relates to the operationalization of the money concept. For instance, in Study 2 we used amounts of RMB100 and RMB0.01 in the process of money priming, but failed to consider the effects of a moderate amount of money, such as RMB10. This category should be explored in future studies.


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Huazhong University of Science and Technology

Li Ma and Qiyun Fang, School of Economics, and Jingyu Zhang and Ming Nie, School of Management, Huazhong University of Science and Technology.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Li Ma, School of Economics, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, 5-2-6C of Peng Cheng Garden Apartment No.103 Xudong Road, Wuhan, Hubei, People's Republic of China, 430062. Email:
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Author:Ma, Li; Fang, Qiyun; Zhang, Jingyu; Nie, Ming
Publication:Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal
Article Type:Author abstract
Date:Jan 1, 2017
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