Next time you go shopping and reach out for the organic lettuce, remember to also keep your attitude in check. A recent study by Kendall Eskine, Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychological Sciences at Loyola University, shows that eating organic food may make people develop a “holier-than-thou complex”. The study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science suggests that there may be a connection between your food choices and your moral behavior. They found that those who ate organic food were more judgmental and less inclined to engage in altruistic behavior.
Professor Eskine took 60 Loyola undergrads and divided them into three groups. One was shown pictures of organic food, like apples and spinach, and another comfort food, like brownies and cookies. The remaining group, which served as the control, was shown foods that weren't organic or comfort foods, like rice and oatmeal. The subjects were then asked to pass judgment on a number of moral issues. People in the organic food group judged the issues much more harshly than the others.
The motivation behind his research is the labeling that most organic foods come in with, such as Honest Tea. He wanted to see whether those exposed to organic food would pat themselves on the back for their moral and environmental choices and wondered if they would be more altruistic or not. One line of reasoning is that this kind of behavior probably has to do with "moral licensing." Those who buy organic food may feel like they have done their part in creating a safe and healthy environment and demand the same moral standards from others.
However, one has to be cautious in interpreting the results. The study group is a small number of undergraduate students, which may not be fully representative of the population under study. There could also be some issues with the choice of foods among the different groups, which need to be looked into further.
In any case, what has been your experience? Have you noticed how your attitude differs when you buy organic versus non-organic food? Have you felt judged by those who buy organic food or find yourself judging the grocery carts of those that are filled with non-organic produce?