Air pollution not only affects your health but may also lead to unethical behaviour such as crime and cheating, researchers have warned.
Air pollution can contaminate your morality
A combination of archival and experimental studies indicated that exposure to air pollution, either physically or mentally, is linked with unethical behaviour.
"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 sulphur dioxide. The crime data included information about offences 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 behaviour, 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 behaviour.
The researchers hypothesized that pollution may ultimately increase criminal activity and unethical behaviour by increasing anxiety.