Research shows that just thinking about money can make you more evil


By Simone Foxman — June 14, 2013

Money may not be everything, but it’s probably more than you think. In fact, the effects of moolah on the mind are so strong that money can make you a bad person without realizing it.
That’s the conclusion drawn by new research from Maryam Kouchaki at Harvard University and Kristin Smith-Crowe of the University of Utah. In four separate studies, they found that people who were first primed with money-related words or images were more likely to make unethical decisions or lie than those who had seen neutral ones. Thoughts about money made the study’s participants more likely to agree to things like hiring a candidate because he had confidential information that could benefit the company, or stealing a ream of paper from their employer for their home printer.

“It’s pretty amazing to us that these subtle cues, environmental cues have this big of an effect,” Smith-Crowe told Quartz in an interview. “[Participants] were conscious that they were seeing words related to money but they were not conscious that these things were actually affecting their decisions and behavior.”

The study was prompted by a desire to figure out what prompts humans to forsake social bonds in favor of personal interest, Smith-Crowe explains. “When you’re engaged in business, you’re often making decisions based on cost-benefit analysis and you’re thinking about self-interest, which may be the company’s interest. But you’re not really thinking about other things.”

Kouchaki and Smith-Crowe found that money words prompted subjects to adopt a “business decision frame,” a mentality in which individuals conducted a kind of cost-benefit analysis to decide whether to pursue self-interest at the expense of social interest. The lens informs the decision; primed with money thoughts, individuals were twice as likely to lie about the results of a test for a small prize.

“Of course, we cannot suggest eliminating money, since money is a necessary feature of business organizations,” the authors write. “Yet, this research suggests that organizations should be aware of the potential of environmental or contextual cues for influencing employees’ unconscious unethical behavior.”

This money-mind mess can, however, be mitigated by what Smith-Crowe calls an “ethical infrastructure.” ”Our point is that you really have to pay a lot of attention, and really even more attention, to the informal systems,” she says—in other words, getting people to behave ethically is more about creating the right culture, environment and cues than it is about setting formal ethical standards. ”If you have a culture of people that feel that cutting corners, doing things unethically is acceptable, you’re going to have a hard time with that in a formal system. [Ethics standards are] sort-of attacking the wrong problem.”

New type of bacteria discovered in Indiana man’s gruesome wound


An Indiana man’s nasty injury led scientists to discover a new type of bacteria that sheds light on symbiotic microbes in insects.

Two years ago, Thomas Fritz cut down a dead crab apple tree in his yard. He fell while hauling away the woody debris and a branch from the tree impaled his right hand between the thumb and index finger.

Fritz, a 71-year-old retired inventor, engineer and volunteer firefighter, bandaged the gash himself. He waited a few days to see a doctor and by the time of his appointment, the puncture wound became infected. The doctor took a sample of the cyst that formed at the site of the cut and sent it to a lab.

After an abscess, swelling and more pain, Fritz’s wound eventually healed. But the sample from his infection puzzled scientists at the lab who couldn’t identify what type of bacteria they were looking at. The sample was eventually sent to ARUP Laboratories, a national pathology reference library operated by the University of Utah, where scientists named the new strain human Sodalis or HS.

Colin Dale, a biologist at the University of Utah, said that genetic analyses of HS showed it is related to Sodalis, a genus of bacteria that he discovered in 1999 and has been found to live symbiotically in 17 insect species, including tsetse flies, weevils, stinkbugs and bird lice. In such symbiotic relationships, both the host and the bacteria gain — for example, while Sodalis bacteria get shelter and nutrition from their insect hosts, they also provide the insects vital B vitamins and amino acids.

Though symbiotic relationships between microorganisms and insects are common, their origins are often a mystery. The new evidence provides “a missing link in our understanding of how beneficial insect-bacteria relationships originate,” Dale said, adding that the findings show that these relationships arise independently in each insect.

As the strain of Sodalis in this case likely came from a tree, the discovery suggests that insects can get infected by pathogenic bacteria from plants or animals in their environment, and the bacteria can evolve to become less virulent and to provide symbiotic benefits to the insect. Then, instead of spreading the bacteria to other insects by infection, mother insects pass down the microbes to their offspring, the researchers said.

“The insect picks up a pathogen that is widespread in the environment and then domesticates it,” Dale explained in a statement from the National Science Foundation, which funded the research. “This happens independently in each insect.”

The research was detailed earlier this month online in the journal PLoS Genetics.