Grumpy Granola Heads – How Organic Food Puts You in a Bad Mood

If you really are what you eat, you may want to think twice before hitting the local organic farmers market this weekend. New research shows that organic food makes people more judgmental and less likely to help others.

The study, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science Journal comes from an author working hard to uncover the link between food and mood. In this case, he exposed participants to one of three types of food: branded organic foods, comfort foods, and so-called neutral foods. The organic food group was shown pictures of products from Honest Tea, Purity Life, and Smart Balance. The comfort food group was shown pictures of chocolate chip cookies and ice cream. The control group was shown “neutral” foods such as oatmeal and condiments.

After viewing pictures of food, participants completed a questionnaire in which they were asked to rank moral transgressions, including consensual sex between cousins and lawyers trawling emergency rooms for new clients. The organic food group judged the transgressions most harshly of the three experimental groups. The participants were also asked to quantify the amount of time they would be willing to spend to help a needy stranger. The comfort group reported an average of 24 minutes, while the organic group reported they would give up only 11 minutes to help. The control group offered 19 minutes.

The organic group reported that they felt that they had already done enough and did not need to help anymore. As if buying better-for-you-and-the-environment (supposedly) food is their good deed for the day.

Evidence for oral-moral connections is not new. Other flavorful research has shown that sweet tastes can prompt favorable judgments of others, and bitter tastes produce a feeling of moral disgust. Though not food-related, other outside influences also affect moral attitudes, including physical cleanliness, which makes people less judgmental of the moral transgressions of others.

Intuition and conscious reasoning, along with social, religious, and cultural influences, guide moral judgment. Is buying fair trade coffee or free-range chicken the most influential piece of your ethical puzzle? Organic foods are put on a pedestal, and the current study suggests that organic foodies are more self-righteous. Maybe they’re just unhappy because their grocery bill is so high.

The study does not evaluate whether people who eat organic foods are bad-tempered or judgmental before they choose organic foods. And, showing people pictures of food does not define their lifestyle habits or food choices. Still, the author concluded that organic food exposure attenuated a person’s desire to be altruistic. That sure leaves a bad taste in my mouth.


Chapman, H., Kim, D., Susskind, J., & Anderson, A. (2009). In Bad Taste: Evidence for the Oral Origins of Moral Disgust Science, 323 (5918), 1222-1226 DOI: 10.1126/science.1165565

Cushman, F., Young, L., & Hauser, M. (2006). The Role of Conscious Reasoning and Intuition in Moral Judgment: Testing Three Principles of Harm Psychological Science, 17 (12), 1082-1089 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01834.x

Eskine, K. (2012). Wholesome Foods and Wholesome Morals? Organic Foods Reduce Prosocial Behavior and Harshen Moral Judgments Social Psychological and Personality Science DOI: 10.1177/1948550612447114

Eskine KJ, Kacinik NA, & Prinz JJ (2011). A bad taste in the mouth: gustatory disgust influences moral judgment. Psychological science, 22 (3), 295-9 PMID: 21307274

Schnall S, Benton J, & Harvey S (2008). With a clean conscience: cleanliness reduces the severity of moral judgments. Psychological science, 19 (12), 1219-22 PMID: 19121126

Image via Joe Hamilton Photography / Shutterstock.

  • wani

    This is NOT true.. Why would you give the Organic group Cookies.. Duh.. of course the other group is going to feel better when shown SUGAR..

  • Joe

    Thanks for blogging about something that’s about a month old and has proven to be nothing more than a flawed study.

  • If this is an example of “brain” blogging I can expect, I’ll be unsubscribing. Where’s a look at the study? Are you really repeating these broad stereotypical conclusions based on a poorly run study using 60-some undergrad students? Hardly science. Hardly worth reading.

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  • Patricia

    I don’t know if the study is true or not but I did notice that all those organic-loving people I know are actually most of the time always in a bad mood, they judge people so harshly and criticize them for not being like them. I don’t eat organic, so what. You have to stop trying to convert me.

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  • Adrian

    Actually, no single study is definitive, so if that’s the kind of answers you seek, you probably should unsubscribe. Note, however, that your reaction is judgmental and severe, which is precisely what this article suggests is characteristic of those possessed with an organic food delusion. The author illuminates the heuristic value of such research, i.e. identifies tendencies in one study group that may or may not be worthy of follow up studies to further refine the evidence. Be that as it may, the knee jerk defensive reaction to this information beautifully illustrates the contempt with which morally superior people view the world. It’s sad, actually, for people to believe they are morally superior based on their neurotic delusion to choose organic over normal based on zero evidence. If this is how you define love of self, then please keep it to yourself. Have a nice day.

    • Dr X

      Adrian… what an exemplary comment. Of course “neurotic delusion,” nor the overall tone of your comment are not judgmental or severe at all. But coming from someone who calls pesticided food “normal”…

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  • Dr X

    What a terrible blog. The conclusion (title) was in no way substantiated by the info here. Very misleading. What does being “exposed to” organic foods mean? And why aren’t we told exactly what types of foods were seen? This is beyond stupid. Clearly another person with an anti-organic agenda. A pharmacist, you say? Surprise.

  • Dr X

    Interesting how another blog, responding in part to this ridiculous one, is posted below and titled “Don’t Swallow the Anti-Organic Hype!” Yes, I do feel smug for knowing better than to draw this ridiculous conclusion from this ridiculous “study” which, like the other blog says, had NOTHING to do with organic shoppers, eating organic, or bad moods. When will people learn to think for themselves? We’ve got all the information at our fingertips, after all, for those who care to be enlightened rather than brainwashed.

  • Stigma

    I’m wondering if this article was written by Monsanto trying to discourage people from eating healthy organic foods. The study was manipulated. Show someone junk food/sugar/ comfort foods and naturally they subconciously will feel better.

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  • 2paz

    Wow. That’s a lot of judgment going both ways including the original blog.
    I just signed up to subscribe because of interest in the brain but this article/blog
    suggests that personal biases are filtering into the info. Egos are powerful
    and persistent…I have one too that I wish would just quiet down more. As far as
    organic vs nonorganic goes, it’s just a choice. Most people are judgmental about something. Getting over that would be a true accomplishment.

  • Paul

    The article at first glance made me think that there was some constituent of organic food that somehow effected brain biology. I thought I gotta read this. It obviously turned out that the psychology of choosing organic food can make a person judgemental. This is obvious stuff to me. I wonder who pays for these studies , I’d think that psychology and its study could be better employed.

  • Kay

    What a stupid study. I just made organic oatmeal cookies..where does that fit in? Tomorrow I’ll be eating organic mac n cheese. Comfort food can also be organic & it tastes sooooo much better than non organic fake food!

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD, is a practicing clinical pharmacist and medical writer/editor with experience in researching and preparing scientific publications, developing public relations materials, creating educational resources and presentations, and editing technical manuscripts. She is the owner of Excalibur Scientific, LLC.

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