New study suggests that air pollution may lead to unethical behaviour

A new study on adults in India and US reveals that exposure to air pollution or living in polluted cities may lead to unethical behaviour such as cheating and crime besides having a negative impact on health.

Feb 9, 2018 13:08 IST
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According to a study on adults in India and the US, exposure to air pollution may lead to unethical behaviour such as crime and cheating.

According to Jackson G Lu, a behavioural scientist at US’s Columbia Business School and one of the study’s lead researchers, the research reveals that air pollution may have potential ethical costs that go beyond its well-known toll on health and the environment.

The study was published in a journal called Psychological Science.
Key Findings of the study

• The findings suggest that air pollution does not only impact people's health, but it can also contaminate people’s morality.

• Previous studies have indicated that exposure to air pollution elevates individuals' feelings of anxiety, which is known to correlate with a range of unethical behaviours.

• In one study, the researchers examined air pollution and crime data for 9,360 US cities collected over a nine-year period.

• The researchers found that cities with higher levels of air pollution also tended to have higher levels of crime.

The Experiments

• In one of the experiments conducted with the university students in the US, the researchers measured how often participants cheated in reporting the outcome of a dice roll.

• In the other experiment with adults in India, they measured participants' willingness to use unethical negotiation strategies.

-  The participants living in a polluted location were found to have engaged in more unethical behaviour than those living in a clean location.

- The ones living in polluted locations also expressed more anxiety in their writing, according to researchers.

• In another experiment, 256 participants were shown a photo featuring either a polluted scene or a clean scene. They imagined living in that location and reflected on how they would feel as they walked around and breathed the air.
• The participants were also given a set of cue words such as sore, shoulder, sweat and they had to identify another word that was linked with each of the cue words such as cold and each correct answer earned them $0.50.

- The researchers then pretended that there was a computer glitch by which the correct answer popped up when the participants hovered their mouse over the answer box and asked the participants not to look at them.

- Then, unknown to the participants, the researchers recorded how many times the participants peeked at the answer.

- The results showed that participants who thought about living in a polluted area cheated more often than those who thought about living in a clean area.

Together, the research findings and experiment results suggest that exposure to air pollution, whether physical or mental, is linked with transgressive behaviour through increased levels of anxiety.

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