Following our trials and tribulations as we attempt to remove all grains, many starchy vegetables and most sugars from our diet while maintaining our love of good food! We strive to make all of our recipes GAPS and/or SCD compliant. Note: We didn't know about "Grain-Free Gourmet" when we chose our name. We are not affiliated with those good folks.
Thursday, May 24, 2012
Does Junk Food Make People Morally Lax?
Jane Doe has encountered her fair share of comfort food slobs, but a recent trip to a Des Moines diner left her feeling like she’d stumbled onto the set of “My Name is Earl”.
“I stopped in at the diner, hoping to get a nourishing meal to sustain me for the next leg of a cross-country road trip. When I had to visit the ladies’ room, I couldn’t help but notice the couple in the next stall loudly copulating. Imagine my shock when I heard them laughing about their being cousins! When I reported the incident to the manager, he said, as he munched on a brownie, ‘Lady, you need to take a chill pill and get over yourself!’ Seriously I could not believe that he had no problem with this behavior, and I couldn’t help but feel like I was in an episode of ‘My Name is Earl’ where junk food and morally suspect attitudes were weekly staples.”
“There's a line of research showing that when people transgress their own ethical codes, they feel the need to grant others a degree of moral license that they might otherwise find reprehensible,” says author Jack Smith, assistant professor of the department of psychological sciences at Something University in Sometown, USA. “I've noticed a lot of junk foods are marketed with morally indulgent terminology, like Chocolate Decadence, and wondered if you exposed people to junk food, if it would make them go easier on other folks for their moral and environmental choices. I [also] wondered if they’d be more eager-to-please.”
To find out, Smith and his team divided 60 people into three groups. One group was shown pictures of clearly labeled organic food, like apples and spinach. Another group was shown comfort foods such as brownies and cookies. And a third group--the controls--were shown non-organic, non-comfort foods like rice, mustard and oatmeal. After viewing the pictures, each person was then asked to read a series of vignettes describing moral transgressions.
“One vignette was about second cousins having sex,” says Smith. “Another was about a lawyer on the prowl in an ER trying to get people to sue for their injuries. Then the groups made moral judgments on a scale from one to seven.”
In another phase of the study, the three groups were asked to volunteer for a (fictitious) study, with each person writing down the amount of time--from zero to 30 minutes--that they would be willing to volunteer. The results did not bode well for the “comfort [junk] food” folks.
“We found that the comfort food people were much more likely to give the moral transgressors a pass compared to the control or organic food groups,” says Smith. “On a scale of 1 to 7, the organic people were like 5.5 while the controls were about a 5 and the comfort food people were like a 4.89.”
When it came to gratifying a fictitious researcher, the junk food people also proved to be more eager-to-please, volunteering 24 minutes as compared to 19 minutes (for controls) and 13 minutes (for organic food folks). Perhaps the organic food folks had gotten a short-term boost in their intelligence, realizing that volunteering for a fictitious study was nonsensical. Perhaps the junk food folks jumped at the chance to assuage their guilt in such a non-binding way.
“There’s something about being exposed to junk food that made them feel worse about themselves,” says Smith, “And that made them kind of morally lax, and eager to do some kind of [easy] penance I guess.”
Why does eating worse make us act worse? Smith says it probably has to do with what he calls, “moral mitigation”.
“People may feel like they’ve done something wrong,” he says. “They seek to mitigate their own guilty feelings by judging other people’s transgressions more leniently, so that they themselves seem less bad in comparison. It’s like when someone is eating a cookie and they offer you one, but you politely decline, and they become more and more aggressive with you, insisting that you eat the cookie, so they aren’t alone in cheating on their diet.”
*A link to the abstract of the study can be found here. I did not wish to pay the money to read the entire study, so I used the figures as reported on MSNBC.