Eat Organic? You Might Be A Jerk

Eat Organic? You Might Be A Jerk

We’ve all heard the term “organic elite,” or encountered holier-than-thou  behavior from those privileged enough to shop at Whole  Foods on a regular basis. But can eating organic food actually turn you into  a jerk? Results from a recent study reveal that your preference for pricey  produce might actually unleash your snobby side.

Published this week in the journal of Social Psychological and Personality  Science, the study found that organic food, while kinder to the  planet, could reduce pro-social behaviors and make us quick to harsh  moral judgement of others. This is troubling, especially when you  think about the fact that most organic  foods are marketed through altruistic messages or brand names (i.e. Honest  Tea, Eden Foods, Back To Nature) that evoke a sense of kindness or  wholesomeness.

You would think that those moved to pay  extra for eco-friendly, fair trade, healthier organics would have this  altruism permeate throughout their entire life. But as the study showed, this  assumption may be incorrect

“There’s a line of research showing that when people can pat themselves on  the back for their moral behavior, they can become self-righteous,” said author  Kendall Eskine, assistant professor of  the department of psychological  sciences at Loyola University in New Orleans. “I’ve …wondered if you exposed  people to organic food, if it would make them pat themselves on the back for  their moral and environmental choices. I wondered if  they would be more  altruistic or not.”

To find out, Eskine and his team divided 60 people into  three groups. One group was shown pictures of clearly labeled organic food, like  apples and spinach. Another group was shown comfort foods such as brownies and  cookies. And a third group — the controls — were shown non-organic, non-comfort  foods like rice, mustard and oatmeal. After viewing the pictures, each person  was then asked to read a series of vignettes describing moral  transgressions…Then the groups made moral judgments [of the scenarios] on a  scale from one to seven.

In another phase of the study, the three groups  were asked to volunteer for a (fictitious) study, with each person writing down  the amount of time — from zero to 30 minutes — that they would be willing to  volunteer.

Results showed that the participants who were exposed to organic foods  volunteered significantly less time to help a needy stranger, and they judged  moral transgressions significantly harsher than those who viewed nonorganic  foods. These results suggest that exposure to organic foods may allow people to  become a little too smug about their own morality, which in turn may decrease  their desire to be altruistic.

Now, before you post that fiery comment about how all your  organic-eating friends are saints, take a closer look at the study. As some  readers have pointed out, 60 participants does not a nationally-representative  study make. Also the study’s methodology has the power to  influence results, simply by giving participants a limited number of choices. So  despite what the study implies, organic snobbery remains an unproven mystery.  For now.

Have you ever met someone who spends so much time searching for the organic  label that they became snobby or insensitive to others? Tell us about it in  a comment!

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