The Corruption of Value: Negative Moral Associations Diminish the Value of Money

Jennifer Stellar
Social Psychological and Personality Science
We investigate the possibility that negative moral associations can reduce the desirability and perceived value of money, and that they do so by threatening to contaminate individuals’ perceptions of their morality. In Study 1, participants filled out fewer raffle tickets to obtain a money prize with immoral associations and perceived it to have less purchasing power than a morally neutral prize. In Study 2, we experimentally manipulated participants’ moral self-image, reasoning that ameliorating moral self-image concerns would make participants less averse to accepting morally tainted money. Consistent with this, participants who recounted a past virtuous act completed more tasks to receive monetary payment with immoral associations than participants who recounted a neutral act. These findings provide experimental evidence that immoral associations reduce the desirability of morally tainted money by threatening to contaminate the recipient’s moral self-image.