Feelings that Make a Difference: How Guilt and Pride Convince Consumers of the Effectiveness of Sustainable Consumption Choices

Abstract

A significant body of research concludes that stable beliefs of perceived consumer effectiveness lead to sustainable consumption choices. Consumers who believe that their decisions can significantly affect environmental and social issues are more likely to behave sustainably. Little is known, however, about how perceived consumer effectiveness can be increased. We find that feelings of guilt and pride, activated by a single consumption episode, can regulate sustainable consumption by affecting consumers’ general perception of effectiveness. This paper demonstrates the impact that guilt and pride have on perceived consumer effectiveness and shows how this effect rests on the ability of these emotions to influence perceptions of agency. After experiencing guilt or pride, consumers see themselves as the cause of relevant sustainability outcomes. The process of causal attribution associated with these emotions influences consumers’ use of neutralization techniques. Through the reduction in consumers’ ability to neutralize their sense of personal responsibility, guilt and pride positively influence perceived consumer effectiveness. The inability to rationalize-away their personal responsibility, persuades consumers that they affect sustainability outcomes through their decisions. The research advances our understanding of sustainable consumption and identifies a new avenue for the regulation of individual consumer behavior that has significant implications for the development of sustainable marketing initiatives.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Notes

  1. 1.

    This is similar to the difference between response efficacy and self-efficacy articulated in the literature on protection motivation theory (Rogers 1983).

  2. 2.

    We also tested the model using a single item to measure the tendency to use neutralization techniques. Results are very similar to those presented in the paper but we prefer to retain a multi-item measure since single item constructs have been criticized in the literature (Ringle et al. 2012).

Abbreviations

PCE:

Perceived consumer effectiveness

SE:

Self-efficacy

PBC:

Perceived behavioral control

ILOC:

Internal locus of control

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Correspondence to Paolo Antonetti.

Appendix: Scenario manipulating Guilt

Appendix: Scenario manipulating Guilt

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Antonetti, P., Maklan, S. Feelings that Make a Difference: How Guilt and Pride Convince Consumers of the Effectiveness of Sustainable Consumption Choices. J Bus Ethics 124, 117–134 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-013-1841-9

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Keywords

  • Ethical consumption
  • Sustainable consumption
  • Guilt
  • Pride
  • Perceived consumer effectiveness
  • Self-efficacy