By Margarita Nahapetyan
The journal Social Psychology and Personality Science has published a new study according to which individuals who consume organic foods have negative attitude toward other people and are less social in general.
The new findings indicate that exposure to organic food can influence a person's moral thinking and behavior, and that choosing to eat organic may cause some people to not only look down on others, but also act mean and judge others more harshly. The study, conducted by Kendall J. Eskine, an assistant professor of psychology at Loyola University in New Orleans, is the first to link organic food consumption and human behavior.
Organic food has become more and more popular in the recent years, and many people have lots of reasons to love it, however the question for this new research is whether organic food will make you a better person or will it make you more likely to help others out or think of others less harshly? In order to find out all this, Eskine involved more than 60 undergraduate students and split them into 3 different groups. The first group was shown the images of foods bearing organic labels, such as spinach, carrots, tomatoes and apples. Participants in the second group saw the pictures of "comfort" foods, such as ice cream, chocolate, cookies and brownies, and subjects in the third group looked at neutral foods, including oatmeal, rice, beans and unlabeled mustard.
With all these images fresh in their heads, the students in all the three groups were then asked to read a series of short stories which described the issues of ethics and morals. One of the stories was about cousins engaged in a sexual intercourse; another one was describing a lawyer trolling ERs for lawsuits; and the final story featured a guy eating his already dead dog. After reading the participants were asked to make moral judgments of the deeds on a scale from one to seven where 1 meant "perfectly acceptable" and 7 meant "totally unacceptable." At the end, all the three groups were told that another professor in the department needed volunteer participants for his new research, and each person was then asked to write down how much time they would be able spare for the work of science, from zero to 30 minutes.
The results revealed that the participants who saw the pictures of organic foods judged others more harshly. On average, they rated the offenses described in the stories at 5.5 out of 7. The students who were shown the images of comfort foods were found to be the softest, with average ratings of 4.89. Also, the organic group scored the worst when it came to their volunteering time, offering to help out for 13 minutes only, compared to 19 minutes for the group which saw neutral food images, and 24 minutes for the comfort food group. The author came to the conclusion that the participants who saw the organic foods felt confirmed in their moral identities and were quite satisfied with themselves, which made them less likely to help others. On the contrary, those who saw junk food were nicer and judged other people the least.
Eskine says that there is an explanation for his findings, such as the fact that sugar can make people more selfless, and that many of the non-organic foods that were demonstrated to the students were sweet foods. Another possibility could be that feelings of guilt associated with consumption of unhealthy foods could be making people softer and more empathetic. Another fact to be considered is that the study involved a small number of participants all of whom were undergraduate students, and therefore, more studies involving a wide-ranging sample are needed in order to draw more definitive conclusions.
When asked what, in his opinion, makes people who eat better quality foods act worse, Eskine answered that it probably has to do with people's "moral licensing." People may feel that they had done something really good and after that they have a right, or a license, to behave somewhat unethically. It is like when a person goes to the gym, works out and, feeling really satisfied with oneself eats a candy bar, researcher said.