The role of self-conscious emotions in ethical consumption

Gregory-Smith, Ioana Diana (2012) The role of self-conscious emotions in ethical consumption. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This thesis examines the role of self-conscious emotions (SCEs) in ethical consumption. The work is primarily psychological and it seeks to add to the generic literature on the role of emotions in consumer behaviour by focusing on SCEs, such as guilt and pride, and analyses their special place in ethical consumption decisions. A mixed method approach was adopted, combining a qualitative study and a quantitative experiment.

The qualitative study comprised 31 in-depth semi-structured interviews designed to explore the manifestation of SCEs and the process by which they influence ethical activity, as recounted by the participants themselves. The data analysis showed that SCEs influence the decision making process and arise at different stages in the consumption cycle, guilt and pride being the most salient emotions. SCEs also played a part in a type of compensatory process between ethical and unethical choices in which consumers engage. The findings of the qualitative study suggested that SCEs have the potential to influence consumers’ ethical choices through marketing communications. The qualitative findings are valuable in their own right and they advanced our understanding of the role of emotions in ethical consumption. In addition, by providing evidence about the motivational role of SCEs, the qualitative study was used to inform the design of the experimental study which sought to test the impact of marketing communications inducing these emotions on consumers’ intentions and behaviour. This was tested via recycling video adverts in a laboratory experiment with 90 students, 30 stimulated to feel guilty, 30 to feel proud and 30 with no stimulus. Guilt and pride were both shown not to influence recycling ethical intentions, as stated by the participants, but they were found to increase actual ethical behaviour as measured by a choice of a product with recyclable packaging versus a product with non-recyclable packaging.

The results of the present thesis entail a series of theoretical and practical implications. In terms of theoretical implications, it offers evidence that emotions, as non-rational variables, should be considered when seeking to understand individuals’ behaviour in the context of ethical consumption. Consequently, the thesis moves the debate further from the sole examination of cognition-related variables which can only partially explain why consumers behave ethically or unethically. In particular, the findings show that positive and negative SCE have a cyclical influence on the decision making process where immediate or post-decision emotions can be metamorphosed into anticipatory emotions for future decisions and thus regulate consumers’ prospect choices. The results also demonstrate that emotions emerge in different stages of consumption (purchase, use and disposal) and that they have a key role in a compensatory process that consumers engage and by which ethical and unethical decisions are balanced to maintain psychological wellbeing. Final theoretical implications entailed by the qualitative study are the development of a guilt taxonomy and description of the guilt management strategies employed by consumers to overcome this negative feeling. The practical implications are directly related to marketing communications. A part of the managerial implications were tested through the experimental design which showed that adverts inducing pride and guilt, respectively, determine ethical choice. The finding related to the positive influence of the pride advert on ethical behaviour responds to the call of some researchers to investigate positive emotions as an alternative to marketing communications over-dependent on negative emotions. Other anticipated practical implications of the present study are related to the design of adverts that can trigger individual types of guilt or a combination, depending on the context and the desired level of guilt to be induced. Additionally, the guilt management strategies can inform marketers’ counteracting communications aiming at neutralising the techniques used by consumers to justify and sustain their less ethical behaviour.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Smith, A.P.
Winklhofer, A.M.
Subjects: H Social sciences > HF Commerce
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > Nottingham University Business School
Item ID: 12566
Depositing User: EP, Services
Date Deposited: 06 Sep 2012 14:53
Last Modified: 16 Oct 2017 13:05

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