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Not Walking the Walk: How Dual Attitudes Influence Behavioral Outcomes in Ethical Consumption

Abstract

Although consumers increasingly claim to demand ethical products and state that they are willing to reward firms that are ethical, studies have highlighted that there is a significant gap between consumers’ explicit attitudes toward ethical products and their actual purchase behavior. This has major implications for firm policies revolving around business ethics. This research contributes to the understanding of the attitude–behavior gap in ethical consumption that literature has identified but not explored much. We utilize the model of dual attitudes as a basis for the arguments presented in the paper and test them. We suggest that the gap in ethical consumerism exists because individuals have implicit as well as explicit attitudes, which are impacted differentially by stimuli and elicit dissimilar behavioral responses and thus have different implications for business ethics policies. Two longitudinal studies are conducted to better understand the impact of an individual’s dual attitudes on preferences and choice. Our findings support the presence of dual attitudes in consumers. Explicit attitudes are found to be easily influenced by the nature of the stimuli. On the other hand, implicit attitudes are relatively unaffected by the nature of the stimuli present and remain relatively constant. Based on the findings, implicit attitudes guide behavior and determine an individual’s preferences. Even though explicit attitudes react to the stimuli presented, our findings suggest they have no impact on the choice of consumers. These findings improve the understanding of ethical consumption, provide a reason as to why the attitude–behavior gap exists, provide a foundation for future researchers and help firms better understand the impact of perceived business on creating a behavioral shift in ethical consumption.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Results replicated on independent analyses on all five measures (a) respecting moral norms (p < .01) (b) adhering to the law (p < .01) (c) socially responsible brand (p = .01), (d) avoiding damaging behavior at all costs (p = .01) and (e) overall favorability (p < .01).

  2. 2.

    Data were also collected on intentions. Results were found to mirror those from preferences and hance have not been reported.

  3. 3.

    The subjects were asked about their preference for Diet-Coke, Original Coke and Coke Zero, and the chosen version was evaluated on preference.

  4. 4.

    Data were analyzed using multiple pooling options in the data. They were analyzed separately across all six conditions (3 stages × 2 conditions), by pooling across conditions and across stages. The results were identical with respect to parameter estimates across all models. For the sake of parsimony, only the results from the pooled regression are reported.

Abbreviations

EA:

Explicit attitude

IA:

Implicit attitude

CPE:

Consumers’ perceived ethicality

PREF:

Preference

OLS:

Ordinary least squares

IAT:

Implicit association test

TP:

Time period

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Correspondence to Rahul Govind.

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Conflict of interest

The authors Rahul Govind, Jatinder Jit Singh, Nitika Garg and Shachi D’Silva declare that they have no conflict of interests.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Appendix: Implicit Association Test Stimuli

Appendix: Implicit Association Test Stimuli

figurea

Images: Coca-Cola (target)

figureb

Images: Fairtrade (target)

Positive and negative words—attribute

Positive Negative
Pleasant Unpleasant
Helpful Unhelpful
Fair Irresponsible
Environmentally friendly Harmful
Sustainable Degradation
Thoughtful Unfair
Equality Inequality

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Govind, R., Singh, J.J., Garg, N. et al. Not Walking the Walk: How Dual Attitudes Influence Behavioral Outcomes in Ethical Consumption. J Bus Ethics 155, 1195–1214 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-017-3545-z

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Keywords

  • Attitude–behavior gap
  • Ethical consumption
  • Dual attitudes
  • Implicit association test