Science can be a wonderfully vindictive thing, especially when it suggests that people who self-righteously purchase and consume organic foods are more likely to not help you jump your dead car battery, hold the door open for you, or volunteer to coach a community little league team. That's right, everyone — organic foodies would sooner run a child down on her way to softball practice with their Schwinns than help that child learn how to catch a flyball, and that's more or less a scientific fact.
This is because, according to a new study published this week in Social Psychology & Personality Science, people who eat organic foods are more likely to think that eating those pesticide and hormone-free foods gives them the moral latitude to be super judgey about other peoples' behavior and skimp on altruistic deeds. Kendall Eskine, assistant professor at the department of psychological sciences at Loyola University in New Orleans, explains the phenomenon of buying moral credit in units of organic produce with an observation about people who feel really good about themselves for exercising:
People may feel like they've done their good deed. That they have permission, or license, to act unethically later on. It's like when you go to the gym and run a few miles and you feel good about yourself, so you eat a candy bar.
How did Eskine and his team of researchers discover that people who pay two extra dollars to feast on brown, free-range eggs lord it over their white-egg eating fellow humans? They first looked at labels on organic food, which, like the "Honest Tea" brand Eskine uses as an example, appeal to consumers looking to pat themselves on the back for a moral and environmental job well-done. (Coincidentally, comedian David Cross has a bit about a brand of plastic wrap in Whole Foods called "If You Care," and yes, it's a real thing.)
Eskine's team then conducted a study in which they divided 60 people into three groups. One group was shown pictures of clearly labelled organic food, another was shown pictures of comfort foods like brownies and cookies, and the third group — the control group — was shown non-organic, non-comfort foods like rice or mustard. After looking at the food pictures, each subject was asked to read a series of vignettes describing moral transgressions, acts ranging from cousins having sex to a lawyer trolling the ER for litigious patients. Subjects then judged these acts on a scale of one (not so bad) to seven (holy shit, that's evil). In a second phase of the study, the same subjects were asked to write down the amount of time (between one and 30 minutes) they would be willing to volunteer.
Surprise, surprise — the people who'd been shown pictures of organic foods were consistently more judgemental and less willing to take time from their lentil-burger grill-outs to volunteer. Eskine reported that, "On a scale of 1 to 7, the organic people were like 5.5 while the controls were about a 5 and the comfort food people were like a 4.89." The organic people also only offered to volunteer for a mere 13 minutes, as compared with the control group's 19-minute offer and the happy comfort-food group's 24-minute commitment. Moral of the story: eating cookies makes you a better person.
I know what you skeptics are thinking — "But Doug, you can't possibly understand the difference between correlation and causation because you don't have access to the fathomless dictionary that is the internet and, anyway, science is far too complicated for a layperson such as yourself to possibly understand. Besides, I love organic food and am a very altruistic person, so this study must be demonstrably false." Eskine, at least, certainly wanted to agree with you because he always thought that people who bought organic would gain moral momentum from buying a loaf of bread that gets moldy in like two days. It's just that, this study sort of shows that those people are really more liable to be selfish jerks just because they've fallen victim to clever packaging that exploits their self-righteousness.
Does organic food turn people in jerks? [MSNBC]
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