Feeling Good by Doing Good: A Selfish Motivation for Ethical Choice

Journal of Business Ethics 166 (1):39-49 (2020)
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Abstract

This paper examines the question of why consumers engage in ethical consumption. The authors draw on self-affirmation theory to propose that the choice of an ethical product serves a self-restorative function. Four experiments provide support for this assertion: a self-threat increases consumers’ choice of an ethical option, even when the alternative choice is objectively superior in quantity and product quality. Further, restoring self-esteem through positive feedback eliminates this increase in ethical choice. As an additional test of the robustness of our results, a final study examined the effect of self-threat on choice in a field setting. The findings indicate that ethical purchases are not just altruistic. They hold purposeful individual value and can help in the self-restorative process. Implications for managers making decisions regarding investment in ethical product features are discussed.

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