Here is a very special case of the law of unintended consequences. Reported in the Roberto Cialdini’s newsletter, Influence.
I quote in full:
“Jesse Catlin from Washington State University’s Business School, together with her colleague Yitong Wang from Tsinghua University in Beijing wondered if this ‘licensing’ effect might also occur when it came to encouraging environmentally protective behavior. For example, in an attempt to make it easier to recycle paper could providing recycling facilities actually cause people to use more paper than they ordinarily would if recycling facilities weren’t available?
In order to test this idea two studies were designed. In the first study participants were told that they would be evaluating a new brand of scissors. Part of the evaluation process required them to rate how good the scissors were at cutting out shapes (such as triangles and squares) from a stack of approximately 200 sheets of plain, white paper. Half the participants tested the scissors in a room where there weren’t any recycling facilities, only a trash can. The other half completed the task in a room where recycling facilities were available in addition to a regular trash can. The participants were purposely not given any specific instructions about the sizes of the shapes or the amount of paper that they should use in the task. Instead they were simply told to dispose of any scraps in the receptacle(s) provided and then complete a ‘green attitude’ questionnaire that asked them about their beliefs and attitudes towards the environment.
The results were quite simply staggering. Participants who evaluated the pair of scissors when recycling facilities were available used nearly three times more paper than the group who didn’t have recycling facilities. Interestingly this increase in the use of resources occurred regardless of how positive the participants’ ‘green attitudes’ were as measured in the post study questionnaire.”
Read the full newsletter here: http://www.influenceatwork.com/how-you-can-sabotage-your-own-good-intentions/
This is quite the reverse of Adam Smith’s invisible hand where selfish interests lead to common good. We so often forget the evil of good intentions.