Feel like you deserve a gold star for eating organically? Turns out, patting yourself on the back for making good food choices might be turning you into a jerk in other areas of your life.
It's a form of social sanctimony, according to a new study published in Social Psychological & Personality Science. The findings are pretty damning for anyone who opts for organic foods:
... participants who were exposed to organic foods volunteered significantly less time to help a needy stranger, and they judged moral transgressions significantly harsher than those who viewed nonorganic foods. These results suggest that exposure to organic foods may lead people to affirm their moral identities, which attenuates their desire to be altruistic.
"There's a line of research showing that when people can pat themselves on the back for their moral behavior, they can become self-righteous," study author Kendall Eskine, assistant professor of the department of psychological sciences at Loyola University in New Orleans, told Today Health.
"I've noticed a lot of organic foods are marketed with moral terminology, like Honest Tea, and wondered if you exposed people to organic food, if it would make them pat themselves on the back for their moral and environmental choices."
For the study, Eskine split a group of 60 participants into three groups. He showed one group pictures of comfort foods (think cookies and cakes), while the second (control) group was shown images of neutral foods like oatmeal and mustard. The third group looked at pictures of clearly labeled organic food like spinach and apples.
Then each group was asked to rate a series of moral transgressions, like lawyers preying on emergency room victims.
"We found that the organic people judged much harder compared to the control or comfort food groups," Eskine told Today. "On a scale of 1 to 7, the organic people were like 5.5 while the controls were about a 5 and the comfort food people were like a 4.89."
Participants were also asked to estimate how much time they'd be willing to volunteer to help a stranger. Again, the organic group ranked lowest, volunteering just 13 minutes as opposed to 19 minutes for the control group and a pretty-generous 24 minutes for the comfort food group. (Cookies apparently give off love-thy-neighbor vibes.)
But why, exactly, does organic kale turn people into meanies? Blame the sense of self-congratulation.
"There's something about being exposed to organic food that made them feel better about themselves," Eskine told Today. "And that made them kind of jerks a little bit, I guess."