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article imageStudy: 'Green' shoppers more likely to steal and cheat

By Gordon K. Chan     Dec 21, 2009 in Science
University of Toronto -- Participants in a study who were deemed "green" conscious were found to cheat and steal more in later tests. This research adds to a recent body of knowledge known as "moral licensing".
Being 'green and mean' used to be a reference to the Incredible Hulk, but in a recent Canadian study, there is a different definition.
A reported study by the University of Toronto's Rotman's Business School, examined a sample of people who were asked to purchase goods at a grocery store. Those who gathered more 'green' or environmentally friendly items were less likely to later share money with an anonymous recipient or more likely to lie or cheat on a subsequent quiz.
Moral licensing is a growing field of research that offers insight into amoral behavior by examining how people regulate morality. It puts forward the idea that people who feel morally satisfied from an accumulation of good acts are granted a 'license' to engage in less ethical behaviors and vice versa.
For example, Tiger Woods who is a dedicated and sensational golf professional and philanthropist, was found to "fritter it all away with a few nights of extramarital indiscretion". Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer is another, who was found consorting with prostitutes after publicly stamping out organized crime and corporate illegality.
It is also reported that the licensing effect is more prevalent when a moral action stands out in society as virtuous.
One researcher explains that the licensing effect is not seen as strongly when morally good behaviors are observed as necessary. In other words, if everyone engaged in a behavior such as recycling, this act is not assigned the same morally positive value, thus the licensing effect will be less evident.
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