HP Labs: Attention is more important than money

The conclusion from a recent study by HP Labs, Status as a Valued Resource, which confirms that attention is more important than money may seem totally counterintuitive. Outside of totalitarian dictatorships and countries that are totally ramshackle and broken down, we live in economies that could be categorised as capitalist to one degree or another. Without money the governmental and business systems of a State quickly grind to a halt. Our lives, as individuals without money, can become onerous in the extreme. Therefore, on the surface, money can be seen as vital and core to our survival and anything else is a bonus. Claiming that something as seemingly trivial as attention is actually more important is a very challenging idea.

In extremes, the absence of money like the absence of water, food or shelter requires urgent self-management. All one’s focus, unless impeded by injury or illness, automatically turns to satisfying these basic needs. Lack of enough money to function with carries within itself the same imperative to do something to remedy the situation.

However, it has been shown that after one has access to a certain amount of cash the impulse to satisfy financial desires is as a consequence reduced. The following video makes this point in a most delightful manner.

In the paper Status As a Valued Resource authored by Bernardo A. Huberman from Hewlett Packard Laboratories, Christoph H. Loch, INSEAD and Hewlett Packard Laboratories and Ayse Öncüler from INSEAD a key experiment was done that shows that will sacrifice monetary gain in order to gain status and garner increased attention.

“Intrinsic status seeking by individuals has important implications for social and economic systems because it can provide a powerful motivation to perform; it also can lead to unproductive competitions with no obvious social value.”

The experiment consisted of a two part card game. Each subject was given a set of 30 cards and the idea of the game was too deploy them in such a manner so as to proceed to the next round. The cards had been given an arbitrary value so their use when deployed could be described as an expenditure or investment. Once through to the second round the game became a lottery. A winner was picked at random and the game ceased. The more cards that a player had left over from the first round increased their chances of winning the lottery in the second round because they would have had more cards available for the draw.

When the game was played by the rules presented to the subject and other variables were taken into account the subjects deployed their resources in a manner corresponding to what could be perceived as a rational approach. Passing through the first around with sufficient cards left over to increase their chances of being card being chosen in the lottery.

Then the notion of a ‘winner’ was introduced:

“In the first condition (no status), the game was conducted exactly as described above. In the second version (status), we introduced a status condition by stating at the beginning of the game that the winner of Stage 1 would be announced publicly, given a small tag saying “Winner,” and congratulated.”

This altered the subjects game playing strategy. The immediate acknowledgement, attention and status that was perceived to be had from obtaining a winner’s badge and receiving applause proved to be more valuable to the participant than a possible eventual overall victory in a lottery.

We know from our previous article Crowdsourcing: Getting Attention is the Key to Getting the Message Out, that attention is the main driver for content production on Youtube and across other forms of Social Media networks that have similar dynamics and operate in a similar way that the more attention a content provider gets the more content they produce and vice versa.

This research further shows that our prime motivator is attention. In this experiment attention gave the subjects status and it is this sense of status that defines where we are in relations to others. Our essential primate nature has existed long before the use of money came into play. Where we stand in our pack or social group has far more significance then many either suppose or care to admit.

In our prehistoric groupings outside of the inefficient use of violence, being active in increasing one’s status was probably the only way of getting hold of special privileges such as a preferred share of the food and grooming etc.

In the modern world we see this in the office politics and turf wars of the private and public institutions. Most people are earning enough to get by so our inclination to pursue status comes to the fore more easily.

In the online world status may be seem to be suggested by having a high follower account but as explained in a previous article, How to Influence on Twitter: Research from New Algorithm Gives Guidance a high number of followers does not necessarily mean that one has a great deal of influence.

“The experiments reported here imply that people tend to over-invest resources whenever “winning against others” is involved, because winning confers status.”

We now know:

  • People value attention more than money.
  • People will behave differently for the sake of increased status.
  • Increased status brings more influence.
  • More influence means greater leadership and possibily more rewards in online communities.

Knowing what our drives are frees us from being slaves to them. Knowledge of our predilections means we can allow, correct for and take advantage of them. The information we now have from the work done by Bernardo and his colleagues at HP Labs enables the rest of us to think, plan and prepare our online and offline activities with greater precision and accuracy than ever before.

2 thoughts on “HP Labs: Attention is more important than money

  1. just Maslow rehashed for social media as far as i can see. Glad it was HP funded and not some poor tax payer.Does increased status bring more influence which in turn brings more affluence?


  2. There is no reference implied or otherwise to Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs.’ http://www.abraham-maslow.com/… I was merely moving the discussion away from extreme examples of behaviour which by definition aren’t typical and can be an unhelpful basis for examining human behaviour. Mercifully, most of us most of the time do not love in extreme conditions. Maslow was inferring that when one set of needs are met another set of needs of a different kind require being attended to. This work on attention takes place in our normal everyday operating space and there is no progression. Our normal everyday way of being sees garnering attention as being more important than getting money.This is a profoundly important knowledge to anyone operating either online or offline.In response to your question, “Does increased status bring more influence which in turn brings more affluence?” In the paper “Status as a Valued Resource” http://www.hpl.hp.com/research… which is also linked to in the article there is the following quote: In the postgame questionnaire, several participants explained it as follows: “On the one hand, you want to increase the chances of winning the money. On the other hand, you want to get recognition from your peers since you won’t get anything by losing in the first game. If you pass, you get the applause and might also get the cash.” Nor did the status-seeking behavior serve other purposes, such as increasing a player’s future reputation: the participants separated after the game was over, and the result did not exert any further influence on their lives. Most participants returned the “winner” tag after the game because it carried no further value for them. Therefore these results show that the participants valued a generally recognized status symbol, such as applause or being acknowledged.”It seems status acquired by means of attention has value in and of itself but does not necessarily go beyond the moment in which it is experienced. This could mean that attention and status are totemic symbols rather than a precise means to an end. This is touched upon earlier in the paper:”Evolution favors efficient competition among group members, to be performed with as little risk of injury as possible. Determining which of two competing individuals would be likely to win in an encounter, without actual fighting, leads to a status hierarchy in primate groups. Human prestige has developed from the primate status tendency but has become symbolic and flexible (because ancient humans often migrated to different habitats.) Status criteria are often determined culturally – for example by skills, knowledge, or the control of resources, or even arbitrarily (Barkow 1989.).”While status and attention are clearly drives designed to bring us preferential treatment in the primate pack setting they also motivate us independently of any kind of apparent or immediate material reward.


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