Shopping Cart Theory of Morality – Evidence For & Against [Psychology]

Does the shopping cart theory of morality have any merit?

Shopping Cart Theory Origin

There’s a popular theory going around that says you can determine a person’s moral character by whether or not they return a shopping cart to its designated spot at a store.

The theory goes that if someone is willing to go out of their way to return the cart, they must be a good person. That’s because they’re doing the right thing despite not getting anything in return.

On the other hand, if they leave the cart where they found it, they’re presumably not as good. It may mean they’re selfish or don’t care as much.

The shopping cart could get in the way of other people or other cars.

Does the shopping cart theory have merit as a way to judge people’s character?

However, there is one glaring problem with it: it’s ableist.

The shopping cart theory, in its original form, states that “There are no situations other than dire emergencies in which a person is not able to return their cart.”

There are many situations where it might be more difficult for someone with disabilities or chronic illness to return a cart.

As long as we’re counting those situations as “emergencies,” does the shopping cart theory stand?

The Shopping Cart Theory in Practice

Let’s say you’re at the grocery store and you see someone leave their shopping cart in the middle of the parking lot instead of returning it to the designated spot.

What does that say about their character?

Well, according to the Shopping Cart Theory, it says they’re maybe not a very good person.

Now I know what you’re thinking—maybe they were in a hurry and didn’t have time to return the cart. Is that a valid excuse?

If someone is capable of returning the cart, but chooses not to, then are they sending a message about their character?

Exceptions to the Shopping Cart Theory

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule.

Let’s say you see someone struggling to return their shopping cart because they have a disability or chronic pain.

In that case, it’s clear that they’re trying their best and we shouldn’t judge them too harshly.

After all, we don’t know what challenges they’re dealing with that we can’t see.

In the end, we shouldn’t make assumptions about things we know nothing about.

Similar concept

The same concept of not making assumptions might apply to an entry-level worker sporting a $20,000 handbag in the office.

Some people might assume that she’s wasteful with her money or has a so-called sugar daddy.

The reality is that unless they know the actual situation for what it really is, they don’t know.

It could be that she got it as a gift (and from someone who isn’t a “sugar daddy”).

It could be something she saved up her money for because it’s something that’s important to her.

It could be a replica bag that is a fraction of the price.

It could be something else entirely.

In the end, we don’t know. And we also shouldn’t talk behind each other’s backs gossiping about things we have no information about.

The Shopping Cart Theory

FAQs – Shopping Cart Theory

What is the shopping cart theory of morality?

The shopping cart theory of morality is the idea that you can determine a person’s moral character by whether or not they return a shopping cart to its designated spot at a store.

What are the exceptions to the shopping cart theory?

There are always exceptions to the rule.

For example, if someone is struggling to return their shopping cart because they have a disability or chronic pain, we shouldn’t judge them too harshly.

It’s important to not make assumptions.

Is the shopping cart theory wrong?

This video makes an argument against it.

Why The Shopping Cart Theory is Wrong

Conclusion – Shopping Cart Theory

The Shopping Cart Theory may or may not be a good way to determine someone’s character.

So next time you’re at the grocery store and you see someone leave their cart in the middle of the parking lot, you don’t necessarily have special insights into their character because of that one act.

Just don’t be too quick to judge!

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