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Folks, Psychologists have finally found a way to explain Al Gore’s hypocritical support of the global hoax.  A study done at the University of Chicago have revealed a  new research study suggesting that people who become eco-conscious “green consumers” are “more likely to steal and lie” than others.

In line with the halo associated with green consumerism, people act more altruistically after mere exposure to green than conventional products. However, people act less altruistically and are more likely to cheat and steal after purchasing green products as opposed to conventional products… purchasing green products may produce the counter-intuitive effect of licensing asocial and unethical behaviors by establishing moral credentials. Thus, green products do not necessarily make us better people.

In this experiment two groups carried out purchases either in a “green store” or a normal store. They were then told they were to participate in an exercise intended to help design new tests, in which they would be paid money based on answers given. In a dry run beforehand they were told that they could lie about the answers in order to increase their earnings. They were also told to pay themselves – unsupervised – from an envelope of cash. As the profs put it:

Thus, in addition to having the opportunity to lie, participants could also steal...

The study suggested that those who had made purchases in the green store lied and stole significantly more than the normal-store buyers:

Buying green can be license for bad behaviour, study finds

Toronto, October 6, 2009 –Those lyin’, cheatin’ green consumers.

Just being around green products can make us behave more altruistically, a new study to be published in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science has found.

But buying those same products can have the opposite effect. Researchers found that buying green can lead people into less altruistic behaviour, and even make them more likely to steal and lie than after buying conventional products. Buying products that claim to be made with low environmental impact can set up “moral credentials” in people’s minds that give license to selfish or questionable behavior.

“This was not done to point the finger at consumers who buy green products. The message is bigger,” says Nina Mazar, a marketing professor at University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and a self-admitted green consumer. “At the end of the day, if we do one moral thing, IT doesn’t necessarily mean we will be morally better in other things as well.”

Mazar, along with her co-author Chen-Bo Zhong, an assistant professor of organizational behaviour at the Rotman School, conducted three experiments. The first found that people perceived green consumers to be more cooperative, altruistic and ethical than those who purchased conventional products. The second experiment showed that participants merely exposed to products from a green store shared more money in a subsequent experimental game, but those who actually made purchases in that store shared less. The final experiment revealed that participants who bought items in the green store showed evidence of lying and stealing money in a subsequent lab game.

But are people conscious of this moral green washing going on when they buy green products and, more importantly, the license they might feel to break ethical standards? Professors Mazar and Zhong don’t know – and look forward to exploring that in further research.

People do not make decisions in a vacuum; their decisions are embedded in a history of behaviors. Across three studies we consider pro-social and ethical decision-making in the context of past consumer behaviors and demonstrate that the halo associated with green consumerism has to be taken with reservations. While mere exposure to green products can have a positive societal effect by inducing pro-social and ethical acts, purchasing green products may license indulgence in self-interested and unethical behaviors.
 

Our findings extend previous research on priming and licensing in two important ways.

First, we explore the relationship between priming as “mere exposure” and other more deliberative processes (Bargh, 2006). Specific to the case of green products, people can be primed by green products in many occasions, for example, while watching a green product advertisement, walking by an organic store, or actually purchasing green products. Do all of these encounters have the same effect? By explicitly contrasting mere exposure with purchasing, we explored the compex interaction between two possible processes (priming and licensing). Our findings suggest that not all exposures have the same priming effect and that other processes (i.e. licensing) can negate or even substitute the priming effect.
 

Second, in previous research moral credentials and the behaviors they licensed were typically in the same domain (e.g., gender-egalitarian acts licensed gender-discriminatory behaviors, Monin & Miller, 2001; reminders of humanitarian traits reduced charitable donations, Sachdeva, Iliev, & Medin, 2009). We examine the licensing effect across seemingly unrelated Green Products and Ethical Behavior 11 domains (i.e. purchasing, altruism, and honesty). Together, our studies suggest that social and ethical acts may contribute to a more general sense of moral self than previously thought, licensing socially undesirable behaviors in distant domains.

The complete study is available at: http://www.rotman.utoronto.ca/newthinking/greenproducts.pdf .

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