The licens­ing effect is the phe­nom­e­non whereby pos­i­tive actions or deci­sions taken now increase neg­a­tive or uneth­i­cal deci­sions taken later. I’ve writ­ten about this pre­vi­ously, before I was aware of a gen­eral effect:

A Tai­wanese study has pro­vided us with a new instance of the licens­ing effect in action, this time with vit­a­min sup­ple­ments. The study found that tak­ing vit­a­min pills or dietary sup­ple­ments for health pro­tec­tion increases unhealthy and risky behav­iour.

After­wards, com­pared with placebo par­tic­i­pants, the par­tic­i­pants who thought they’d taken a vit­a­min pill rated indul­gent but harm­ful activ­i­ties like casual sex and exces­sive drink­ing as more desir­able; healthy activ­i­ties like yoga as less desir­able; and they were more likely to choose a free coupon for a buf­fet meal, as opposed to a free coupon for a healthy organic meal (these asso­ci­a­tions held even after con­trol­ling for par­tic­i­pants’ usual intake of vit­a­min pills). […]

The vitamin-takers also felt more invul­ner­a­ble than the placebo par­tic­i­pants, as revealed by their agree­ment with state­ments like “Noth­ing can harm me”. Fur­ther analy­sis sug­gested that it was these feel­ings of invul­ner­a­bil­ity that medi­ated the asso­ci­a­tion between tak­ing a pos­tu­lated vit­a­min pill and the unhealthy atti­tudes and decisions.

Busi­ness­Week also points out that this loop of benev­o­lent and self-indulgent behav­iour is plainly evi­dent in the shop­ping habits of con­sumers… some­thing that mar­keters know all about.

via @vaughanbell