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Green is Mean – and Really Unethical?

 

New study suggests selfish, dishonest side to environmentalism.

 

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Does driving a high-mileage hybrid encourage motorists to develop "compensatory ethics"?

 

by Paul A. Eisenstein on Mar.16, 2010

 

Ask any California motorist and they’ll tell you about the folks in the Prius hybrids. For several years, the high-mileage vehicles qualified for special stickers that let them drive in the car pool lanes on local highways, even with just one person onboard.

 

“And you’d seem to find most of them driving well below the speed limit,” grumps Bill Tabor, an Orange County mid-level manager, who had to squeeze several colleagues into his low-mileage Honda Accord to get the same access. “It was as if they suddenly were the authority, setting the speed that everyone else would have to drive.”

 

Frustrating, no question. But according to a new study, it’s also no surprise.

 

People who wear the “halo of green consumerism” may like to be seen as saving the planet, but they’re less likely to be kind to others and surprisingly likely to cheat and steal, according to a study by the Canadian psychologists Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong, who published their findings in the journal Psychological Science, under the title, “Do Green Products Make Us Better People?”

 

Apparently, the answer is not also a resounding no.

 

“Virtuous acts can license subsequent asocial and unethical behaviors,” Mazar and Zhong contend.

 

They back that finding up with the results of a series of tests. In one, green consumers were more likely than other, less environmentally-focused consumers to cheat in a computer game to get more money – and then lie about it. In fact, in another test in which participants were put on the honor system and asked to take money from an envelope to pay themselves for purchases, the study team found greenies were six times more likely to steal.

 

“Green products do not necessarily make for better people,” the report in Psychological Science declares.

 

The degree to which the environmentally-minded consumers proved to have otherwise low scruples surprised the pair.

 

“Given that green products are manifestations of high ethical standards and humanitarian considerations,” the authors wrote, it would otherwise seem that this would “activate norms of social responsibility and ethical conduct.” But, instead, their findings seem to suggest that greenies just might see themselves as above the typical norms of behavior.

 

The authors call that “compensatory ethics,” or “moral balancing.”

 

Perhaps that explains why some of the most visible environmental proponents often find themselves caught in compromising situations, like Al Gore, the former Vice President and activist for preventing global warming, whose own home has turned out to use more energy than some small villages.

 

http://www.thedetroitbureau.com/2010/03/green-is-mean-and-unethical/

 

Link to the study: http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2010/03/01/0956797610363538.full

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Green buyers may feel entitled to steal: study

Kenyon Wallace, National Post

Published: Wednesday, March 31, 2010

 

'Green' shopping used to justify subsequent wasteful behaviour: study

Related Topics

 

Purchasing green products may license people to engage in self-interested and unethical behaviours, such as cheating, stealing and lying, according to a newly published study.

 

The study, in the current issue of the journal Psychological Science and conducted by University of Toronto professors Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong, set out to determine how green consumption fits into people's sense of social responsibility and how if affects their behaviour.

 

"While mere exposure can activate concepts related to social responsibility and ethical conduct and induce corresponding behaviours, purchasing green products may produce the counterintuitive effect of licensing asocial and unethical behaviours by establishing moral credentials," the researchers write.

 

In other words, the moral halo people feel after purchasing green products might lead them to develop a holier-than-thou attitude, whether conscious or not, that could ulimately manifest in immoral acts.

 

In one experiment, 156 volunteers were randomly assigned to a computer screen showing one of two online stores that either carried mainly green products or conventional goods. One group was asked merely to rate the products for "aesthetics of design" and the "informativeness of description." The others were invited to select products for purchase.

 

The students were then invited to take part in an ostensibly unrelated game where they were given money and told they could divide it with a partner any way they liked, as long as the partner agreed. If the offer was rejected, no one would get any money. The results were startling.

 

Those who had been exposed to the green store and asked merely to rate the products shared the most money. Participants who had made purchases in the green store shared less money than those who made purchases in the conventional goods store.

 

In a separate exercise, students were randomly assigned to make purchases in either the green or conventional store, as in the previous experiment, but they were then asked to accurately report which side of a computer screen was displaying more dots in a series of visual tests. They were told they would earn money for every correct response, but the program was designed so that students would quickly realize the computer would pay based on keystrokes, not accuracy.

 

When the results were tallied, students who had made purchases in the green store were found to have a higher number of incorrect answers, suggesting they cared less about being accurate than earning more money.

 

Finally, when students were asked to pay themselves in good faith from envelopes beside their computer screens, the students who had shopped at the green store stole a significantly larger amount on average.

 

Green living expert Amy Todisco debates the study's findings, saying they seem like just another attack on environmentalism.

 

"The same argument could be made about Catholics after they've gone to confession or about missionaries doing good deeds - does that somehow licence them to do less altruistic things after they've done something good?" Ms. Todisco said. "I don't think that makes any sense."

 

National Post

 

 

 

Read more: http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=2750525#ixzz0l6sc7Ddr

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