Stop organics and become a better person?

Maybe you thought self-righteousness was the primary consequence of eating organic food. New research indicates it’s actually selfishness. So if you want to be a better person, perhaps don’t go near organic food!

This is the counterintuitive implication of a newly published study that has found that exposure to organic foods reduces willingness to help others.

Kendall Eskine, a psychologist at Loyola University New Orleans, examined the psychological impact of organics in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. His work builds on the concept of “moral licensing” — the notion that the doing of some kind of virtuous deed gives us license to engage in less than ethical behaviour.

Eskine’s experiment featured 62 undergraduates, who were told they were participating in two unrelated studies — a consumer research survey and a moral judgment test.

They were first presented with photos of four common food items, which they rated in terms of desirability. Some saw pictures of healthy foods that were labelled organic (including an apple and a tomato); others saw “comfort food” items such as ice cream and cookies; and still others saw neutral foods, including oatmeal and beans.

They were then presented with a series of descriptions of people behaving badly, including one in which a student steals library books, and another in which a congressman accepts bribes. They were asked to rate each from “not at all morally wrong” to “very morally wrong.”

Finally, they were told volunteers were badly needed for another experiment, and asked how much time, if any, they were willing to give to help the researcher out.

“Those exposed to organic food made significantly harsher moral judgments than those exposed to control foods or comfort foods,” Eskine reports. In addition, they “volunteered significantly less time” for the additional experiment.

“These findings reveal that organic foods and morality do share the same conceptual space,” Eskine concludes, adding that the study “suggests that exposure to organic foods helps people affirm their moral identities, and attenuates their desire to be altruistic.”