Friday, March 12, 2010

How What You Buy Shapes Your Conscience

Prepare for some thought provoking mental stimulation on the subject of human nature.

First up is two psychological experiments concerning how the presence of "green products" products in our society is affecting how we think. The theory is "Virtuous acts can license subsequent asocial and unethical behaviors".

The first experiment finds that the mere exposure to green products aroused altruistic behavior. Specifically, it made the participants in the study more generous.


Now for the really juicy part. In the second experiment participants were allocated money to purchase products from a eco-friendly web retailer or a "normal" retailer. (the participant didn't have a choice where to shop). Following this the participants engaged in a number of activities that ultimately revealed that those who purchased green products were more selfish, significantly more likely to cheat, lie, and six times more likely to steal.

Wow. Now there is some profound insight into human nature.

In other news - well, Toyota is in all the news - there is a fascinating (and hilarious!) Times editorial about how the authors wife chose to drive a Toyota Prius which consequential completely distorted her perception of reality.

After the flood gate of recalls began to open, he couldn't wait to give his wife a hard time:

...The problem is that I can't rub this in, because she won't acknowledge it. I forward her every article about the car's problems, but she keeps saying, "It's fine!" as if this were some kind of Salem witch trial for liberals. Even though Toyota's website says to immediately remove the driver's-side floor mat because the accelerator can get stuck, she won't do it. In a car we drive our baby in. This is a woman who won't give our son nonorganic blueberries.

Admitting there's a problem with her Prius would imply there's something imperfect about her entire Whole Foods lifestyle. The Prius has made her feel so superior that, when I drive it, she tells me I'm driving it wrong. My primitive method of accelerating to speed up and braking to slow down does not maximize miles per gallon, as she can show me on an annoying bar graph on that center screen. Prius owners work very hard to get as many miles per gallon as they can to win a game they like to call Getting in an Accident While Staring at a Screen with a Dumb Graphic...

For a while, Prius drivers in L.A. even got to park at meters without paying and drive in the carpool lane without a passenger. You don't get to drive in the carpool lane without a passenger the day you give blood. You could save every child in Haiti, and you would still have to feed the parking meter. And yet we could not thank Prius owners enough for their sacrifice in driving a really nice car that costs less to fill up. If Mel Gibson had been in a Prius, the cops would have set up a motorcade for him to weave behind and yell out his window about the Jews... (My Prius Problem)

Both of these examples present very convincing evidence of the importance in thinking through the source of the values which define how we live.

If you want to engage these ideas further, a fellow blogger wrote a great post titled "Is Ethical Buying the New Legalism Part 1" and "Part 2".

1 comment:

Kurt Willems said...

Great observations here. I was really interested in the studies! Thanks also for the shout out! Have a great weekend!!!!