Shady business deals, crimes, and other acts that violate our sense of right and wrong can leave us feeling sick—literally.
“The emotion we feel from experiencing a moral violation can profoundly affect our behavior,” says Cindy Chan, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough and Rotman School of Management.
“It causes us to consume less and highlights a psychological truth that moral violations can, in a manner of speaking, leave a bad taste in our mouths.”
Across a series of three studies, participants drank less chocolate milk while watching a film portraying incest and listening to a news report about fraud. They also reported not enjoying the chocolate milk as much.
Participants also consumed considerably less water when asked to write a story about cheating or theft.
Chan and colleagues wanted to see if the effects of moral disgust follow the same pattern as core disgust. Core disgust has been shown to evoke a range of physical and behavioral responses to possible contaminants including, the feeling of nausea and revulsion as well as a withdrawal or avoidance of food.
“Moral violations stir up moral disgust and that disgust can cause us to lose our appetites because it functions as a way to protect us from ingesting something that may be harmful,” says Chan.
The research supports the idea that moral violations are grounded in the emotion of core disgust. Chan says the research may also be of interest to marketers whose brands are associated with moral violations or whose products may be consumed in morally charged environments.
“People may drink less coffee at a café if they are reading about corporate fraud in the newspaper,” she says. “They may consume less popcorn and pop at a movie theatre if they are watching a film about corruption and greed.”
The research is available online and is published in the current edition of the Journal of Consumer Psychology. Leaf Van Boven from the University of Colorado at Boulder, Eduardo Andrade from FGV Rio de Janeiro, and Dan Ariely from Duke University collaborated on the project.
Source: University of Toronto