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Emotions and dissonance in ‘ethical’ consumption choices

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This paper investigates the role of emotions and the prevalence of dissonant/incongruent choice behaviour within the context of ethical consumption. Based on 31 in-depth interviews with British consumers, the findings demonstrate that consumers consciously indulge in ‘ethical’ and ‘unethical’ behaviour (as defined by respondents themselves), often within short time frames, and that they often compensate for unethical choices by making ethical choices later on (and vice versa). The study provides evidence that positive and negative emotions are a key driver of this dissonant behaviour. Guilt is the most salient emotion, and a taxonomy of guilt in this context is derived from the data. Consumers are found to employ guilt-management strategies in order to sustain contradictory behaviour and manage cognitive dissonance. A conceptual framework is derived in order to summarise the observed role of emotions in ethical consumer choice. The paper also provides additional explanations of the manifestation of the attitude–behaviour gap.

Keywords: attitude–behaviour gap; cognitive dissonance; dissonant behaviour; emotions; ethical consumption

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Durham Business School, UK 2: Nottingham University Business School, UK

Publication date: August 1, 2013

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