Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The Dark Side of the Green Side

Today, during one of my endless surfing sessions, I read a Blog entry by Dan Ariely (author of Predictably Irrational) discussing a forthcoming article (Do Green Products Make Us Better People?) on the various implications of the green effect on consumers. The findings of the article, let me warn you, are kind of unexpected. As discussed in a previous post in this blog (Are You Into Ecopornography?) we have witnessed, in the last years, an incredible increase in the amount of green products offered in the market. This probably reflects the fact that consumers not only choose what to buy on the basis of the price and/or quality, but also on the basis of social and ethical factors. Being green is seen as cool. Being green is a socially desirable attribute. It makes you fell good. No doubts.

After a series of experiments, the two researchers (Mazar & Zhong) found out that:
  1. the mere exposure to green-related concepts and/or products through priming would lead to a subsequent activation of our social responsibility and therefore to a more likely altruistic/green behaviour.
  2. However (and here comes the interesting one): people act less altruistically and are more likely to cheat and steal after purchasing green products as opposed to conventional products.
The findings reported in point 1 are in line with the research on the phenomenon of priming. A precedent series of stimuli can influence our subsequent behaviour. For example some studies found out that exposure to a series of exclusive restaurant pictures was positively influencing manners in a subsequent "eating situation". Otherwise as described in M.Gladwell's book Blink an exposure to a series of words recalling old age was affecting the speed at which people were walking out of the laboratory after the experiment.Therefore accordingly to previous research green priming (let me call it like that), influences subsequent behaviour in a positive way.

The findings reported in the second point are more interesting and unexpected. It looks like that, after a green purchase we would be more likely to feel like: "Ok, I've done my part. My conscience is now clean. Let's rob a bank!" (or something like that). The authors explain their findings like that: "our studies suggest that social and ethical acts may contribute to a more general sense of moral self than previously thought, licensing socially undesirable behaviors in distant domains." (i.e.: cheating or stealing money).

Doing good would make us feel OK with ourself and therefore more likely to act in a anti-social or self interested way in a latter situation. Therefore if you did something good today, pay attention to what you may find yourself doing this evening!