Do "Green" Products Cause Bad Behavior?

New research indicates that exposure to green products and the purchase of green products have vastly different effects on behavior. Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong found that exposure to green products results in more altruistic behavior later on, but actually purchasing green products seems to have the opposite effect: “people act less altruistically and are more likely to cheat and steal after purchasing green products than after purchasing conventional products.” So best to think twice before you buy those recycled paper towels. (HT: The Daily Dish)[%comments]


We only have the capacity to do so much good, you know?

Robert Anderson

This has certainly been shown of Prius owners, see

for a perspective.


This would have been interesting if I believed that the research is good. But like so many psychologists, they just had a few dozen bored students play some silly simulation games -- and they decalre that this "proves" something about "people" in general!

At best, this tells you something about the students of the University of Toronto. At worst, the results are completely worthless.


May be it like many of those good Sunday church goers who claim to be Christian. I'd more likely trust my wallet or my life to an Atheist.


Not much of an article. It does not give any details or statistics, so I tend not to take it too seriously.
By, the way, Mikki, what does religion or lack of belief have anything to do with this issue? I don't see where the dots connect.


i look at this with great suspicion.

They labeled "green" those who declared themselves as such ^in a game situation^. Maybe those who had a tendency to lie or to be dishonest changed "sides", but the researchers didn't deal with this, they just assumed all subjects declared honestly their preferences for green or conventional products.

So at the very beginning there may be a bias - suppose actually that greens are the honest - then you would expect many "false" self-declared greens.


Robert Anderson's link above shows the exact reason; people are constantly comparing themselves to each other. So if I'm driving a more efficient vehicle it means I can drive farther, if I'm being a conservationist in one aspect then I get to splurge in another... because I've EARNED the right to.

I don't see any way around this, it's human nature. But it's also important that more and more people learn about these types of results. As some people see supposed gains, they'll try to legislatively turn that into a mandate causing people to lose freedoms with no benefit.

Not to mention that many 'green' activities aren't really any better for the environment they just shift the environmental cost to a less visible area. Combine the 'false-green' practices with the 'I'm green' attitude mentioned here and we're going in completely the wrong direction.

Joan in California

Is this discarded material for an SNL skit?

Derek from Austin, TX

It IS well established that once people feel that they have already PAID a flat rate for something which is available in quantity (such as a donation for candy on a counter, or an all you can eat buffet), versus that same thing being made freely available for use "on the honor system", they are more likely to take, and to take more of an item which is presented. I would expect that a similar "pre-paid dues to society" mentality prevails here as well.

MOST interestingly, we should consider commencing a long term study of the impact that granting higher public benefits, such as healthcare and increased unemployment, has on the overall and relatively high rate of charitable giving in the US. As my taxes will certainly rise to pay for what I consider a relatively luxurious standard of medical care for many who cannot pay for it themselves, I expect both my ability and motivation to donate to the poor will be diminished in the future. "Why should I?" one reasons. "After all, I gave at the tax office." Just take a look at charitable contributions in more socialistic countries.



This would corroborate a personal theory of mine, but the assertion needs stats to back it up.


I think it's a comment about Mikki's personal experience with perception v. reality.

Bobby G

While I can't speak for how valid the research is, it does remind me of one of the first stories in Freakonomics about the Israeli day care center... perhaps people feel that purchasing green products (for a premium in either price or quality) permits them to act reckelessly. Much like people who say, "I worked out today, so it's OK for me to eat this box of donuts."

Tom G

By definition, buying stuff means you are not a very good participant of conservation efforts

Mike K.

Mikki's bad behavior doesn't necessarily mean she buys green products.


If this research is any good it tells us more about the kind of people who buy the organic stuff rather than the organic stuff itself.


Please read the study. This thing has been over-hyped, and I've read at least one post debunking the public frenzy about the immorality of 'green' shoppers. (Sorry, can't find the link.)

You shouldn't be putting up links to trash like this unless you're debunking the absurd conclusions people draw about a very limited experiment.


G.D. As a former U of T student I can tell you that this is the marketing department's MO. In fact, when I took the marketing course we were given marks if we participated in these stupid studies. I don't even remember exactly what it was.

Discerning Reader

156 students and the "greens" ran away with a whopping $.048 on average? What's the median? Is this even statistically viable?

I'd like to know if the 9 people who didn't pay themselves shopped green or not - If you're going to challenge altruism by counting pennies, it seems wrong to exclude them from the study. They gave more than anyone.

Discerning Reader

Also, of the other studies they quote, this one's my favourite:

"Monin and Miller (2001) found that a previous gender-egalitarian act licensed subsequent gender-discriminatory behavior."

That study asks "does establishing moral credentials cause the release of true sexist attitudes?" and then goes on to prove its authors don't understand causality, when they observe that sexists tend to preface their remarks with evidence of how they are not sexist.

Since no-one likes a label, it should be obvious that the intent to espouse gender-discriminatory behavior CAUSES the cushioning remarks directly preceeding them, not the other way around (even though they come first in the sentence).

Discerning Reader

Sorry I meant 48 cents.