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Do Green Products Make Us Better People?

Apparently not. We’re actually more likely to steal and cheat after buying a ‘green product.’ This implies that seemingly virtuous acts can license subsequent asocial and unethical behaviors.

Consumer choices reflect not only 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 found that mere exposure to green products and the purchase of such products lead to markedly different behavioral consequences. In line with the halo associated with green consumerism, results showed that people act more altruistically after mere exposure to green products than after mere exposure to conventional products. However, people act less altruistically and are more likely to cheat and steal after purchasing green products than after purchasing conventional products. Together, our studies show that consumption is connected to social and ethical behaviors more broadly across domains than previously thought.

A large literature on priming has reported that social behaviors can be primed by subtle environmental cues…. Thus, people tend to be strongly motivated to engage in prosocial and ethical behaviors if their moral self is threatened by a recent transgression; they are least likely to scrutinize the moral implications of their behaviors and to regulate their behaviors right after their moral self has experienced a boost from a good deed. This implies that virtuous acts can license subsequent asocial and unethical behaviors.

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