A combination of archival and experimental studies indicates that exposure to air pollution, either physically or mentally, is linked to unethical behaviour, according to a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
Unethical behaviours that were recorded in the study include committing crimes and cheating. The experimental findings suggest that this association may be due, at least in part, to increased anxiety, according to the study.
Behavioural scientist Jackson G Lu of Columbia Business School, the lead author of the study, said, “this research reveals that air pollution may have potential ethical costs that go beyond its well-known toll on health and the environment.”
“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,” Lu added.
Previous studies have indicated that exposure to air pollution elevates individuals’ feelings of anxiety, while anxiety is known to correlate with a range of unethical behaviours. The researchers hypothesised that pollution may ultimately increase criminal activity and unethical behaviour by increasing anxiety.
In another study, researchers examined air pollution and crime data of 9,360 US cities collected over a nine-year period. They found that cities with higher levels of air pollution also tended to show higher levels of crime.