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Psychology professor's research relates food to moral identities

Loyola University
Professor Kendall J. Eskine.

Exposure to organic foods can influence moral thinking and doing, according to a new study from Loyola University.

The research done by Kendall J. Eskine, an assistant professor of psychology at Loyola University New Orleans, is the first to demonstrate that exposure to organic foods can influence moral thinking and doing.

“Food is a central component of daily life. Going beyond nutrition, food connects people to their heritage and environment; people celebrate with food, plan their days around it and even organize romantic encounters along various confectionery delights,” Eskine said.

After viewing a few organic foods, comfort foods or control foods, participants who were exposed to organic foods volunteered significantly less time to help a needy stranger, and they judged moral transgressions significantly harsher than those who viewed non-organic foods. These results suggest that exposure to organic foods may lead people to affirm their moral identities, which reduces their desire to be altruistic.

“Organic foods, like other green products, seem to help people affirm their moral identities, thus generating counterintuitive behaviors," Eskine said. “In particular, the organic food industry has significant implications for health, culture and psychology, and in many cases, foods can act as containers of meaning that transcend their physical properties.”

The paper, entitled “Wholesome Foods and Wholesome Morals? Organic Foods Reduce Pro-social Behavior and Harshen Moral Judgments,” is scheduled for publication in Social Psychological and Personality Science, a peer-reviewed journal in social and personality psychology.

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