A study published last week by Loyola professor Kendall J. Eskine in Social Psychological and Personality Science reports that people who eat organic food are self-righteous assholes. My main question is: What in the ridiculous research hell kind of study is this?
The details are more ludicrous than you can imagine, or than I could make up: 62 participants looked at pictures of food. Some looked at pictures of fruits and vegetables that clearly had an “organic” label. Others looked at more comfort foods, like sweets, with no labels; and the rest of the group looked at foods like rice that are supposedly more “neutral” or something. Now pay attention: That picture-looking will dictate the jerkish personalities (or lack thereof) of the participants!
The study went on to let each individual rate fictional characters described in some sort of packet. The characters included a shoplifter, a person stealing books from a library, a politician accepting bribes, and “a man eating his already-dead dog.” (What the…?!) The participants then rated each character a number from 1-7, based on morality. Turns out those that looked at vegetables beforehand judged harsher than those who looked at cupcakes. Also, when asked, the veggie-glancers were less willing to participate in another study than their sugar-viewing peers, which I guess is supposed to prove something as well. And finally, when it came to helping out a needy stranger, the organic picture-peeping people seemed to be less caring, volunteering only 13 minutes as compared to 19 minutes (for the neutral rice picture people) and 24 minutes (for comfort food picture people).
Warning: Looking at this picture might turn you into an asshole.
Ignoring the oddness of how looking at pictures is supposed to prove anything in this case, all a pointless study like this one does is make people angry—on both sides. Organic eaters get defensive, and non-organic shoppers get pissed at the perceived pretentiousness of people who go to Whole Foods.
Listen, makers of studies: People are already angry. We don’t need a weird study that just exacerbates food-related nastiness (I’d also like to chime in to say that this study doesn’t really help small, local farmers trying to make a living, either!). So why was this study released? Why has it gotten press at all? Did Eskine have some sort of bad experience at a farmers market? So many questions.
What perturbs me most is that studies like this one do no good for anyone. Even if this study DID prove what it was intended to prove (which, again, it didn’t), what is the point? Here’s an idea: Maybe next time the social science field could produce a sound study that actually has a point, proves it, helps society by giving us food for thought, and MSNBC could report on that one instead.