“Green” shoppers more likely to cheat and steal

We are grateful to Mr. John Taschereau for kindly sending us this short but revealing article from the Ottawa Citizen, Canada

If buying an organic apple instead of one caked in pesticides eases your conscience, there’s a good chance that your next ethical decision might not be a good one.

According to the results of a University of Toronto study, participants who assigned more social value to ‘green’ shopping were more likely to cheat and steal in subsequent tests than those with less stringent shopping habits.

The study, to be published in the new year in the journal Psychological Science, is the latest in a growing field of research called “moral licensing.”

It’s a relatively new concept that posits humans might store up a reserve of good karma only to squander it later. It’s a little like Tiger Woods spending thousands of hours on golf and earning hundreds of millions of dollars on the PGA tour, only to fritter it all away with a few nights of extramarital indiscretion.

Co-authors Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong, professors at the university’s Rotman School of Business, set up tests for a sample of university students, which asked them to purchase a basket of goods at either a hypothetical organic shop or a typical grocery store. Those who bought more green items were found in separate tests to be significantly less likely than their conventional counterparts to share money with an anonymous recipient and more likely to cheat on and lie about the results of a simple quiz.

Just why this happens is unclear, said Mazar, noting that she and Zhong would like to look at the potential biological underpinnings for such decisions.

Copyright © The Ottawa Citizen, 2009