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Psychology professor's research relates food to moral identities

Loyola press release - May 22, 2012

Kendall J. Eskine, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Loyola University New Orleans, recently had his manuscript, “Wholesome Foods and Wholesome Morals? Organic Foods Reduce Pro-social Behavior and Harshen Moral Judgments,” accepted for publication by Social Psychological and Personality Science, a peer-reviewed journal in social and personality psychology.

Eskine’s research 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.

“One of my lines of research focuses on what I consider to be ‘everyday cognition,’ and food represents a perfect example of this,” 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 results could have turned out either way, but I was honestly hedging my bets on the moral licensing approach, according to which people feel licensed to act less ethically when their moral identities are made salient,” Eskine said. “Organic foods, like other green products, seem to help people affirm their moral identities, thus generating counterintuitive behaviors.”

Social Psychological and Personality Science is a unique, short-reports journal that focuses on cutting-edge articles and is geared toward a speedy review and publication process that allows groundbreaking research to be quickly available to the field.

For more information, contact Eskine at 504-865-2270 or kjeskine@loyno.edu.