Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 145, Issue 3, pp 599–621 | Cite as

Overcoming the ‘Window Dressing’ Effect: Mitigating the Negative Effects of Inherent Skepticism Towards Corporate Social Responsibility

  • Scott Connors
  • Stephen Anderson-MacDonald
  • Matthew ThomsonEmail author


As more and more instances of corporate hypocrisy become public, consumers have developed an inherent general skepticism towards firms’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) claims. As CSR skepticism bears heavily on consumers’ attitudes and behavior, this paper draws from Construal Level Theory to identify how it can be pre-emptively abated. We posit that this general skepticism towards CSR leads people to adopt a low-level construal mindset when processing CSR information. Across four studies, we show that matching this low-level mindset with concrete CSR messaging works to effectively mitigate the negative effects of inherent CSR skepticism on consumers’ attitudes, purchase intentions, and word of mouth. The resulting construal-mindset congruency strengthens the favorability of consumer responses through increased positive elaboration and perceptions of CSR message credibility. Furthermore, this congruency effect is shown to persist over time in skeptical domains but to dissipate in less skeptical domains.


Scepticism Corporate social responsibility Concreteness Vividness Construal level theory 



The authors express their appreciation to the Ivey Business School, the London Business School, and the Queen’s School of Business for financial support. The authors are indebted to Allison Johnson, Joseph Redden, Kathleen Vohs, Nader Tavassoli, Rajesh Chandy, Ryan Rahinel, Simona Botti, Stefano Puntoni, Theo Noseworthy, Andrew Perkins, and June Cotte and the participants at the LBS brown-bags for invaluable feedback. They also extend thanks to Andrew Sell, Jannine Lasaletta, Ji Kyung Park, Martin Pyle, Noelle Nelson, and Sophia Somers for assistance in data collection. Stephen Anderson-Macdonald, who completed this paper as a doctoral student while at LBS,  dedicates this work in memory of his mother, Judith.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of Interest

No author is aware of any conflict of interest relating to this research. We are in control of the data and agree to allow the data to be reviewed if requested.

Ethical approval

All human studies have been approved by the appropriate ethics committee and informed consent was used universally. Specifically, all research was conducted in accordance with the “Tri Council Statement on the Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans,” Canada’s governing ethics policy that is also in large part based on the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Scott Connors
    • 1
  • Stephen Anderson-MacDonald
    • 2
  • Matthew Thomson
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Carson College of BusinessWashington State UniversityWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.Stanford Graduate School of BusinessStanfordUSA
  3. 3.Ivey Business SchoolWestern UniversityLondonCanada

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