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

Journal of Business Ethics 166 (1):39-49 (2020)
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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 (Study 1) and product quality (Study 2). Further, restoring self-esteem through positive feedback eliminates this increase in ethical choice (Studies 2 and 3). 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 (Study 4). 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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Julia Klein
University of Chicago