I first had this thought recently when a guy at the store with a shopping cart filled with organic groceries cut in front of me at the checkout line. He must have seen me – I’m a size four, not invisible. After he piled his eco-purchases onto the conveyor belt, I saw him peer back into my cart; he was clearly disappointed with my decision to choose non-organic cereal and vegetables. (We’re still in a recession, people!)
It reminded me of that “South Park” episode in which everyone bought hybrid cars, and instead of polluting the environment with smog, they clogged up the community with their smug.
Shoppers who buy “green” and organic products may feel like ethical superstars, but according to a University of Toronto study by Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong titled “Do Green Products Make Us Better People?”, they’re far more likely to be jerks in everyday life. And after my recent experience at the checkout line, I’m not about to argue.
But the study goes further, claiming that these “green” consumers are prone to lying, and even have a thing for stealing. The culprit? A sense of entitlement fueled by the fact that they’ve “bought” moral authority. The study is a part of ongoing research into an oft-discussed theory that, ironically, some people who do good things feel they’ve earned the right to exhibit questionable behavior in other parts of their lives.
Here’s a rundown of one of the experiments: Nearly 100 University of Toronto students had to identify which side of a computer screen contained more dots – this was after they were told that one side would earn them a nickel for each dot counted, and the other side just half a penny.
The result? Those who had previously purchased eco-friendly products were more inclined to lie about the dots to accumulate more money. And here’s the kicker, some “green” shoppers even stole money from a nearby envelope that had been set aside for participants to take home their earnings.
Meanwhile, students who said they were exposed to “green” products in the past (but didn’t make purchases) were more altruistic throughout the series of tests. So, although exposure to eco-friendly items can have a positive societal effect on people by influencing ethical acts, “purchasing these products can license indulgence in self-interested and unethical behaviors,” the report stated.
Are all “green” shoppers selfish? Of course not. But at least this study validates my theory behind the asshole in the checkout line.