The effects of buying green

As I mentioned a few days ago, a recent article in Popular Science listed some research that did what might be called confirming the obvious. This article claimed that research has shown that "environmentalists can be smug jerks." I assumed that this was just the editors of Popular Science trying to be controversial and that if I looked at the actual paper that they cite that I might find something different. Here's what I found.

The paper that this article cites is "Do Green Products Make Us Better People?" by Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong, both of the University of Toronto. Here's the abstract of this paper, which was published in the March 2010 issue of Psychologial Science.

Consumer choices not only reflect price and quality preferences but also social and moral values as witnessed in the remarkable growth of the global market for organic and environmentally friendly products. Building on recent research on behavioral priming and moral regulation, we find that mere exposure to green products and the purchase of them lead to markedly different behavioral consequences. 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. Together, the studies show that consumption is more tightly connected to our social and ethical behaviors in directions and domains other than previously thought.

In other words, the Popular Science people may have been trying to be controversial, but they don't seem to have really misrepresented what the research showed.

I have to wonder if generalizations of the Mazar-Zhong research are also true. There are certainly types of computer hardware and software that seem to cause a certain level of smugness in their users and it might be the case that these users compensate for this in some way.

People who drive cars equipped with manual transmissions also seem to feel a meaningless sense of moral superiority over people who can't do this. Maybe they also make up for this by doing bad things. I hope that's not the case. I'm one of those people who feel smug about driving a stick. I'd like to think that this doesn't make me do bad things, but I might be wrong about this.

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