The suffix –aholic indicates that the person this term is being used to describe is one who feels compulsively the need to do something or is addicted to something, and workaholics are on the rise. Workaholism is associated with overearning, the tendency to forgo leisure and work beyond one’s needs, and recently research has been studying the question, do people overearn?
This research was published in the journal of Psychological Science and has been evaluated for New York Times readers by reporter Matt Richtel in his article “You Can’t Take It With You, But You Still Want More”. Richtel writes an article that helps readers understand the researcher’s methods, results, and the overall purpose of their experiment, but does not completely tell readers the strengths and weaknesses of the research. While Richtel’s article accurately portrays the experiment and its results, it lacks in its criticism of the strengths and weaknesses of the research due to more emphasis on journalism and less emphasis on science.
In the original research, the researchers studied the question do people overearn? In other words, the researchers wanted to know if people forgo leisure to work and earn beyond their needs. They stated that the question is understudied because it is difficult to
determine the right amount of earning and to define overearning. Therefore, the researchers introduced a highly simplified experimental paradigm to study overearning in a controlled laboratory setting. Before conducting their experiment, the researchers hypothesized that participants would overearn and were more likely to do so when earning rates, the number of times a participant would have to do something before they earned their reward, were high rather than low. The researchers also hypothesized that while earning, participants focus on nominal earnings rather than the consumption consequences
of the earnings. Using the method of the simplified paradigm, the researchers discovered that individuals do overearn, even at the cost of happiness. According to Hsee (2013), overearning is a result of mindless accumulation—a tendency to work and earn until feeling tired rather than until having enough (Hsee, 2013, p. 852).
The researcher’s experiment consisted of two phases. In the first phase, participants sat in front of a computer wearing a headset for five minutes, and had the option of listening to piano music or to an annoying noise. The participants earned pieces of Dove
chocolate when they listened to the noise a certain number of times. Some participants had a high earning rate, which means they listened to the noise fewer times to get each piece of chocolate; those who had a low earning rate had to listen more times. In the second phase, the participants could eat the chocolate they earned, but they would have to leave any chocolate they did not eat, and they were asked how much they expected to be able to eat. The high earners predicted that they could eat 3.75 chocolates and the low earners predicted 3.77. The high earners listened to the noise enough to earn 10.74 chocolates and
the low earners earned 2.54. Then the high earners only ate 4.26 chocolates and the low earners 1.68. The participants were also asked to rate the music and the noise on a scale of one to six, one being extremely unpleasant and six being extremely pleasant. Results showed that the music was more pleasant than the noise, but other findings showed that the participants subjected themselves to the annoying noise to earn more than they could even eat, or predicted they could eat. The researcher’s experiment included two other similar short studies that also proved that even when overearning would undermine
consumption experiences, participants still overearned and that earners do not spontaneously monitor the utility of their earning or control their decisions to stop earning.
The researchers’ experiment and their methods were very strong. They included not only one, but three different studies to not only prove that individuals overearned, but to also prove that individuals did so at the cost of happiness. Although there could be other reasons for overearning, the researchers covered all their bases. They provided various other possible reasons for overearning in their research, but throughout conducting their studies, they were able to rule out some of those possible reasons. For example, one possible explanation the researchers listed for the overearning effect was uncertainty protection, meaning that participants could be unsure about how much to earn and earn more just in case. Study two ruled this out because overearning would hurt consumption, and people would overearn for uncertainty protection only if overearning would not hurt consumption.
Matt Richtel definitely accurately portrayed the experiment and its results. He simplified the experiment the researchers conducted and put it into NY Times readers’ terms and got the main point and purpose of the research across. He also did so in a very journalistic style. Readers would have been able to evaluate the actual research from the experiment had Richtel written his article with more emphasis on the science of the experiment. The actual research of the experiment and the report from the journal of Psychological Science should have been one of Richtel’s concerns when writing his article.
The research is what basically establishes and ensures that the results from the report on which Richtel is writing about are actually true and can be proven. Richtel was not critical of the strengths and weaknesses of the research in the article. Although the main purpose of the experiment was depicted in his writing, he did not explain two of the three studies done in the experiment, which would prove that the research was actually very strong. A certain study the researchers conducted actually dismissed another possible explanation for the topic they were studying, which was overearning. Richtel did not even mention that there could be other possible explanations for overearning. He was not even critical about the weaknesses of the research. Richtel’s article had typical problems of journalistic writing about science. He did not include all the scientific aspects of the experiment, only what was necessary to get readers to understand the experiment and its purpose. Although Richtel did get the purpose across, he still did not elaborate too much on the happiness concept of the experiment. He explained that overearning may lead to unhappy choices, but by not including the second and third studies of the experiment, readers do not get to see how happiness was actually measured in the experiment.
The Hsee (2013) article included strong research that was able to prove that individuals do, in fact, overearn, even at the cost of happiness. This was the main purpose of the researchers’ experiment and it was covered in Matt Richtel’s article. Although Richtel’s article was able to convey the message the researcher’s discovered, it was not able to convey the strong research that was conducted to make their message even possible. Richtel put too much emphasis on the journalism of his report, by actually reporting and telling what the researchers did and put too little emphasis on the science of the experiment, and why the researchers did what they did.
Hsee, C. K., Zhang, J., Cai, C. F., & Zhang, S. (2013, April 9). Overearning. Psychological
Science, 24, 852-859. DOI: 10.1177/0956797612464785
Richtel, M. (2014, January 4). You Can’t Take it With You, But You Still Want More. The New
York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/05/business/you-cant-take-it-with-you-but-you-still-want-more.html?_r=0