A combination of archival and experimental studies indicated that exposure to air pollution, either physically or mentally, is linked with unethical behavior.
‘Air pollution may ultimately increase criminal activity and unethical behavior by increasing anxiety.’
The experimental findings suggest that this association may be due to increased anxiety.
"This research reveals that air pollution may have the potential ethical costs that go beyond its well-known toll on health and the environment," said lead author of the study, Jackson G. Lu of Columbia Business School.
"Our findings suggest that air pollution not only corrupts people's health but can also contaminate their morality," Lu added.
For the study, published in the journal Psychological Science
, researchers examined air pollution and crime data for 9,360 US cities collected over a nine-year period.
The air pollution data included information about six major pollutants, including particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. The crime data included information about offenses in seven major categories, including murder, aggravated assault, and robbery.
The researchers found that the cities with higher levels of air pollution also tended to have higher levels of crime
This association held even after the researchers accounted for other potential factors, including total population, number of law enforcement employees, median age, gender distribution, race distribution, poverty rate, unemployment rate, unobserved heterogeneity among cities and unobserved time-varying effects.
To establish a direct, causal link between the experience of air pollution and unethical behavior, the researchers also conducted a series of experiments.
According to the researchers, previous studies have indicated that exposure to air pollution elevates individuals' feelings of anxiety. Anxiety is known to correlate with a range of unethical behavior.
The researchers hypothesized that pollution may ultimately increase criminal activity and unethical behavior by increasing anxiety.