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The Green Life: Can Being Eco-Saints Turn Us Into Sinners?

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December 11, 2009

Can Being Eco-Saints Turn Us Into Sinners?

Angel.and.devil When you go to the store and buy organic food (and remember your reusable bags), are you more likely to come home and be mean to your family afterward? 

Yes, according to an intriguing study by University of Toronto researchers, who found that shoppers who bought green products were less likely to act altruistically and more likely to cheat and steal in a lab game than those who bought conventional products.

But how can this be?

Psychologists explain it thus: After people do good deeds -- in this case, buying green products -- they tend to rest on their laurels and relax their ethical standards a bit. In other words, doing good may make us subconsciously feel licensed to do a little bad. 

It's like being on a diet: if you are "good" by eating veggies all week, on the weekend you may be more likely to splurge on junk food. 

In contrast, there's also evidence that good deeds beget more good deeds. Everyone likes to think of themselves as a nice person, so if good deeds make us feel all warm and fuzzy, we may be more likely to keep doing them.

So don't worry, we're not all doomed to go on murder sprees after buying organic apples. The takeaway from this study seems simple: Don't pat yourself on the back too much, and always be conscious of ways to do good by others and the environment, whether you've just come from the farmers' market -- or McDonald's.

--Année Tousseau

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