05/18/2012 04:59 pm ET Updated May 18, 2012

Organic Eaters Might Be Meaner Than Their Counterparts, Study Finds

Eating organic food may make people develop a holier-than-thou complex, according to a new study in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Researchers divided subjects into three different groups. One was shown pictures of organic food, like apples and spinach, and another comfort food, like brownies and cookies. The remaining group, which served as the control, was shown foods that weren't organic or comfort foods, like rice, mustard and oatmeal.

Afterword, the subjects were asked to pass judgment on a variety of moral transgressions. The results were stark: People in the organic food group judged the issues much more harshly than the others.

MSNBC spoke with the one of the study's authors, Kendall Eskine, assistant professor of the department of psychological sciences at Loyola University, who explained he reason for exploring the phenomenon:

"I've noticed a lot of organic foods are marketed with moral terminology, like Honest Tea, and wondered if you exposed people to organic food, if it would make them pat themselves on the back for their moral and environmental choices. I wondered if they would be more altruistic or not."

The findings are especially interesting when considered hand in hand with previous studies, including a 2010 paper in the journal Psychological Science titled "Do Green Products Make Us Better People?" It found that when people feel morally virtuous about purchasing green or organic products, they sometimes experience a "licensing [of] selfish and morally questionable behaviour," otherwise known as "moral balancing" or "compensatory ethics."

The 2010 study suggests that such a "halo of green consumerism" makes people less likely to be kind to others, and more likely to cheat and steal.

Photo by Flickr user Ano Lobb.