Monday, April 2, 2012

“Would you drink apple juice if you knew a sterilized cockroach had touched it?” –Everyone, paraphrasing Jonathan Haidt

One of the questions Jonathan Haidt asked people for his book, The Righteous Mind, was if they would drink a glass of apple juice if a sterilized cockroach had been dipped into it. Haidt explains that the cockroach has absolutely no disease or hazardous particles on it; it does not affect the juice in any tangible way. So would you sip?

The press’s response has largely been that this question belongs at a slumber party, not academic work, but it got me thinking. My snap reaction is that I wouldn’t, because that’s gross. As an adult I’m supposed to pretend I have deliberated responses, but I know and want to out snap-reaction thinking.

A few seconds later I thought about sitting at a table with some squeamish friends. I envisioned that all of these friends (not naming names) would refuse and squirm in their chairs. And my contrarian nature would seize on the harmlessness of the juice, compelling me to drink it just to tease them. Removed from the circumstances, I realize I’d gleefully haze my friends for the same inhibition that I’d otherwise have.

Then I thought of those times when I couldn’t afford food. Would I drink it then? You bet your food stamps I would.

Right now I have food in my house, but no fruit or juice. Might I supplement my vitamin intake tonight with this cockroach-touched juice? It’s quite possible, especially if it wasn’t apple juice. I don’t like apple juice.

Or if I’ve just read one of those reports about how juice is sugar-heavy without the digestible fiber to offset it? I’m a sucker for those, affecting my drinking choices for short periods of time afterward.

And what am I getting out of the deal? Does a doctor offer me five bucks to drink a glass of sterile-cockroach-touched juice? In that instance I think I wouldn’t, believing there’s no way a doctor would pay me money for something that didn’t have a secretly questionable chemical in it.

But if the doctors swore upon pain of litigation that the juice was clean? Then I’d probably take the fiver.

What about days when I’m feeling sicker, when the syndrome is heavier, and my thinking slows and I get generally cranky? I’d be much less receptive to the roach-juice, just as I’m less receptive to trying anything new in those periods.

Never mind the setting, circumstances or who made the offer (if Dick Cheney dipped it, you’re looking at a different outcome than if my germophobe sister did). I couldn’t help thinking about personal circumstances, things like mood or recent personal issues that could sway me in that case, and that do routinely sway my behavior. Had I not been in a receptive mood when I first heard about Haidt’s book, I probably wouldn’t have looked it up and have added it to my next buying list. I believe most human beings are arbitrary like me in these regards. We’re not randomly capricious, but we bring more into situations than absolutist answers account for.

You, dear reader, have factors that would influence how you’d respond to this post today as opposed to next week, and next month, and while you have the worst flu of your life, and right after you get the best hummer of your life. What mood are you in?


  1. if I was 5 years old, I would drink it. simply because, when you're a child, you haven't yet had enough experience to know whether it is gross or not and you would always want to experience it before you judge.

    I think the question is kind of silly. plus, he's does not say the juice would you give any health benefits or superpowers, so what's the point in drinking it? unless of cause, I'm really, really thirsty and there's nothing but the glass of juice to drink and that I would die of thirst if I don't drink it.

  2. I wouldn't drink it. I have a debilitating fear of cockroaches. I nearly burst into tears at the sight of them. You can ask my coworkers who have witnessed it.

    And I'm in a good mood or I never would have made it to the end of this blog post which is well over my 200 word maximum reading limit. ;)


Counter est. March 2, 2008