Artificial Intelligence and Declined Guilt: Retailing Morality Comparison Between Human and AI

Journal of Business Ethics 178 (4):1027-1041 (2022)


Several technological developments, such as self-service technologies and artificial intelligence, are disrupting the retailing industry by changing consumption and purchase habits and the overall retail experience. Although AI represents extraordinary opportunities for businesses, companies must avoid the dangers and risks associated with the adoption of such systems. Integrating perspectives from emerging research on AI, morality of machines, and norm activation, we examine how individuals morally behave toward AI agents and self-service machines. Across three studies, we demonstrate that consumers’ moral concerns and behaviors differ when interacting with technologies versus humans. We show that moral intention is less likely to emerge for AI checkout and self-checkout machines compared with human checkout. In addition, moral intention decreases as people consider the machine less humanlike. We further document that the decline in morality is caused by less guilt displayed toward new technologies. The non-human nature of the interaction evokes a decreased feeling of guilt and ultimately reduces moral behavior. These findings offer insights into how technological developments influence consumer behaviors and provide guidance for businesses and retailers in understanding moral intentions related to the different types of interactions in a shopping environment.

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