Polluted air can cloud your morality, lead to unethical behavior

NEW YORK — Polluted air doesn’t just affect our physical health, but it can disturb our psychological health too. The findings of a recent study show that exposure to air pollution, or even just the belief that you’ve been exposed to toxic air whether you have or not, can compromise a person’s sense of morality.

Researchers from Columbia University conducted experimental studies and surveys of past data to find indications of air pollution exposure affecting crime and deviant behavior. The results showed a link between pollutants and a person’s likelihood of committing a criminal act or cheating. The authors believe the connection has to do with increased anxiety that people experience in areas with greater levels of pollution.

Air pollution
The findings of a recent study show that exposure to air pollution, or even just the belief that you’ve been exposed to toxic air whether you have or not, can compromise a person’s sense of morality.

“Our findings suggest that air pollution not only corrupts people’s health, but also can contaminate their morality,” says first author Jackson G. Lu, a behavioral scientist at Columbia Business School, in a release by the Association for Psychological Science.

Previous research has associated elevated levels of air pollution to heightened anxiety in individuals, which has long been correlated with unethical behaviors.

One study compared crime statistics with air pollution levels of over 9,000 cities in the United States over a period of nine years. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation contributed data to the study. Cities with higher levels of air pollution also had higher levels of crime, especially violent crime, such as robbery, assault, and murder.

In order to show a direct, positive correlation, the researchers gave 256 study participants pictures of a polluted scene or a clean scene. The participants were then asked to imagine themselves living in or inhabiting that space, specifically how it would feel to breathe the air. They were then asked to complete a word association test on a computer in which they were told a “glitch” made the answers available to them if they hovered the mouse over the answer box. What they didn’t realize was the answers were purposefully made available to them.

Researchers specifically asked the individuals not to cheat. Participants earned $0.50 for every correct answer, but were not aware that the researchers could monitor how often they’d take advantage of the glitch.

The results showed participants who imagined themselves inhabiting a more polluted space “cheated” on the test more often.

Another experiment sought to verify the link between anxiety and air pollution. Participants were shown photos from Beijing, with some images depicting notably smoggier scenes and others showing much cleaner views of the same area. The individuals were tasked with writing essays about what they thought it would be like to live there. Later, specialists measured the essays for anxiety. Sure enough, those who imagined themselves living in the cleaner areas displayed lower levels of anxiety in their essays compared to people who wrote about living in polluted areas.

Those same participants also took part in experiments that again gave them the opportunity to cheat in order to win. One experiment involved predicting a die-roll and another involved negotiation strategies. Those who wrote about polluted areas were also more likely to cheat in the die-roll game or use unethical strategies to succeed in their negotiations.

“This research reveals that air pollution may have potential ethical costs that go beyond its well-known toll on health and the environment,” concludes Lu. “This is important because air pollution is a serious global issue that affects billions of people—even in the United States, about 142 million people still reside in counties with dangerously polluted air.”

The study was published Feb. 7, 2018 in the journal Psychological Science.


  1. No surprise here, most pollution is found in large cities, large cities tend to vote to the left and the left lacks any sense of morality. Perhaps it’s a really good idea to suppress leftist thinking.

        1. Trump is doing that with China who has the worse air pollution than L.A., the smog capital of America.

      1. +++ every time Liberals speak (which is often), they exhale CO2 + kill the planet — so hypocritical; they should be holding their collective breaths 🙂

  2. These frauds will do anything to come up with an excuse for unacceptable behavior by certain groups of people

  3. I smell BS in the air. But we need more tax payer funding to study this in more depth.

  4. yes. Those L.A. people are immoral due to the smog, their valley is the porn capital. It is the fault of the smog.

  5. Good Grief Charlie Brown. So this is the new approach to Leftist problems. Pollution???

    If this were scientific fact things would be getting BETTER as the air is cleaner now than it was when I was a kid growing up in the LA basin,

    1. Leftist only have one problem. How to loot more money out of the public’s treasury. This, is geared to do just that.

  6. Climate change/global warming is taking a new form and a new cause.. Some gibberish about pollution cloudding morality and creating bad behavior??

  7. Certainly explains why so many major cities are liberal, while fresh country air is generally conservative.

    liberalism isn’t only a mental disease, it’s also a physical sickness! It should be treated and excised like the cancer it is.

  8. Amusing stuff. The most dangerous ‘airborne pollutant’ one can inhale is silica dust – and if you drive on the interstate or reside in a concrete jungle – you’re sucking it down daily.

    Oddly – pollution has been far worse in past decades – and more oddly – people behaved considerably better then than now.

    And as for trying to tie it to ‘climate change’ – that only demonstrates the recent studies noting IQ’s are dropping over the last several decades – and US public schools aren’t even remotely capable of ‘educating’ people any longer. One has to be pretty imbecilic to think ‘pictures of pollution’ stimulate immorality…

  9. It probably also causes brain damage as evidenced by the number of liberals in these bastions of democratic progressivism.

    The next thing you know these leftist sociologists and social re-engineers will declare is “the science is settled”, Trump is Satan incarnate, and as the devil is making people choose to act in an immoral way. Yeah, that certainly puts a new spin on “the devil made me do it” excuse. Maybe pollution and “climate change” is making people murder and rape, too. Ergo, one can’t blame the perps since it’s Donald Trump as Satan incarnate who is making people do bad things.

    Idiot post-modern leftards. Blame everything but the perp for bad choices and bad behavior.

  10. I love this article? The more these “Climate Einsteins” talk the more idiotic they sound. At this point, is there anything in life we do which isn’t impacted by the “Global Warming” fraud? It just keeps piling up – gravity will likely kill this meme. Also believe a lot of people will go to jail for fraudulent use of government monies.

  11. When are we going to force liberals to take moral responsibility for the deaths their policies and politics have created:

    1) Their inner city plantations due to the broken promises and lies they promised their most faithful constituents who are now increasingly cynical, angry, frustrated, and violent? The blood of every person murdered in the urban cesspits made possible by the left’s welfare plantation mentality is on the hands of every bleeding-heart liberal. Unintended consequences still have consequences.

    2) The Abortion Holocaust. The blood of 58 million unborn Americans are on the hands of liberal pro-aborts as they now complain that their aren’t enough taxpayers and taxes to support their push for a leftist utopia.

    3) The permanent separation of American parents from their children and vice versa by illegal immigrant murderers as a result of the liberal open borders crowd wanting more illegal aliens in this country.

    4) The deaths of all those aliens in Mexican deserts as they are dangerously trekking toward America as a result of the siren song of Democratic open border advocates from Barack Obama on down. Liberals are also culpable for every rape perpetrated upon young aliens in those caravans and for the rising tide of child labor slavery which began in earnest under Barack Obama in 2013.

    5) Liberals are responsible for EVERY American murdered by illegal aliens on American soil because they’ve openly invited these murderers into our land and continue defending their “right” to be here.

    Every one of you liberals will die with blood on your hands because of your left-wing advocacies which result in the deaths of American peopole

  12. What a crock. The air is much cleaner in the U.S. than it has been in the past. Sounds like another communal ‘science’ project from the totalitarian environmental movement.in an ongoing attempt to control the energy markets. More apocalyptic fortune-telling from the disgraced global warming clowns..

  13. Pollution may correlate with bad morals, but we all know that correlation is not the same as causation.
    The real cause is liberalism, of course.

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