Buying and eating organic food makes many people feel better about themselves. (Not coincidentally, organic products often have panderingly positive names, such as Honest Tea, Purity Life, and Smart Balance.) The flip side, according to a new study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, is that organic eaters often look down on others, and aren't shy about expressing their derision. Does going organic turn you into a jerk? Here's what you should know:
How did researchers study the effects of organic food?
They divided 60 people into three groups: One was shown images of organics, such as spinach and apples; one was shown only comfort food, such as brownies; the third reviewed pictures of basics like rice and oatmeal. Then all three groups were asked to read vignettes about moral transgressions, such as cousins having sex or an ambulance-chasing lawyer hunting clients in an ER, and rank how bad the vignettes' protagonists were on a seven-point scale. The participants were also asked how much time they would be willing to volunteer for a fictitious study.
And what did they find?
The crowd exposed to organic foods judged others more harshly. On average, they put the offenses described in the vignettes at 5.5 on the seven-point scale. The people exposed to pictures of comfort food were the most mellow, with average ratings of 4.89. The organic group was also stingier with their volunteering time, offering to help out for 13 minutes, compared to 19 minutes for rice-and-oatmeal group, and 24 minutes for the comfort food crowd.
How do experts explain these results?
Author Kendall Eskine, a psychology professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, chalks it up to something he calls "moral licensing." People do something they see as a good deed, so they start feeling self-righteous. They also feel like "they have permission, or license, to act unethically later on," Eskine says. "It's like when you go to the gym and run a few miles and you feel good about yourself, so you eat a candy bar." How comforting, says Doug Berry at Jezebel. "Moral of the story: Eating cookies makes you a better person."