The findings published in the journal Psychological Science suggest that exposure to air pollution, even imaginative, may result in unethical attitude like crime and cheating.
The study was conducted on adults in India as well as the US and suggests that increased anxiety might be the cause of such behavior. There have been previous studies as well that have indicated that exposure to air pollution elevates a person’s feelings of anxiety, which correlates with a range of unethical behaviours.
The researchers assessed air pollution and crime data for 9,360 US cities collected over a period of nine years and found that cities with higher air pollution levels also seemed to have higher levels of crime. In the other experiment with adults in India, they measured participants’ willingness to use unethical negotiation strategies.
Researchers said that people who wrote about living in a polluted area involved themselves in more unethical behaviour than those who wrote about living in clean areas. They also expressed more anxiety in their writing.
Since the participants could not be asked to experience air pollution, 256 participants saw a photo featuring either a polluted scene or a clean scene and imagined living in that location. They were then given a set of cue words and had to identify another word that was linked with each of the previous words. Each correct answer earned them $0.50. The correct answer popped up if the mouse was hovered over the answer box, which the researchers asked them not to do. Unbeknownst 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. “Our findings suggest that air pollution not only corrupts the environment or the people’s health, but also can contaminate their morality,” said Jackson G Lu, behavioural scientist at Columbia Business School in the US.