Mere exposure to green products can make people behave more altruistically, but purchasing those same products can have quite the opposite effect, suggests a new study in press at the journal Psychological Science.
Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong of the University of Toronto conducted three experiments to gauge how people’s interaction with green products affected their other social interactions. The first experiment involved 59 students, who were asked to rate green consumers against conventional consumers in terms of various positive attributes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the participants rated those who buy green products as being more cooperative, altruistic and ethical than those who purchase conventional products.
In a second experiment, each of 156 students was randomly assigned to shop at either a conventional or ‘green’ online store, in which they were either exposed to or offered to purchase items. The same students then participated in a game that involved sharing money with an unidentified person in a separate room. While those exposed to the green products shared more money than those exposed to the conventional products, participants who had actually bought green products shared less money.
In a final experiment, 90 students were given the task of playing a game in which they saw a box divided by a diagonal line on a computer screen. Participants had to press a key to indicate whether there were more dots on the left or right side of the diagonal line. They were financially rewarded for each time they indicated the left side as having more dots than the right, and were told that accuracy was important to the design of future trials. On average, the purchasers of green products were the most likely to lie and steal to earn extra money, pocketing an average of $0.83 more than participants who went about their shopping in the conventional store.
The authors suggest that buying green products may act as a ‘moral offset’, prompting people to be more lax with other ethical norms. So, the moral of the story is…that if you do stop by Fresh and Wild on your way home, that isn’t excuse to lie about your tax return, or to call in sick tomorrow.