When Guilt is Not Enough: Interdependent Self-Construal as Moderator of the Relationship Between Guilt and Ethical Consumption in a Confucian Context
Guilt appeals have been found effective in stimulating ethical consumption behaviors in western cultures. However, studies performed in Confucian cultural contexts have found contradictory results. We aim to investigate the inconclusive results of research on guilt and ethical consumption and to explain the inconsistencies. We aim to better understand the influence of guilt on ethical consumption in a Chinese Confucian context and to explore the culturally relevant individual-level concept of interdependent self-construal as a moderator. We build our argument on the Confucian ethics of ren-yi-li where the virtue of propriety (li 礼) specifies role-based obligations depending on the proximity of one’s relationship to others and may thus limit ethical behaviors that are directed to those who are relationally distant. We hypothesize a positive relationship between guilt and ethical consumption that is, however, negatively moderated by interdependent self-construal. Put another way, consumers who define themselves strongly through their relationships with close others are less likely to compensate for guilt through ethical consumption. We find the hypothesized model supported in a survey of 314 Chinese consumers. The results suggest that guilt appeals can stimulate ethical consumption in Confucian cultures. However, guilt appeals may not be enough, as the moderating effect suggests that they will be most effective when combined with an ethical consumption initiative that conforms to the Confucian li principle. As this principle implies prioritizing close over distant relationships, it follows that consumers may be more likely to respond to guilt appeals which are linked to ethical consumption initiatives whose beneficiaries they feel connected to.
KeywordsGuilt Ethical consumption Interdependent self-construal Confucianism
Average variance extracted
Confirmatory factor analysis
Comparative fit index
Exploratory factor analysis
Root-mean-square error of approximation
Structural equation modeling
The authors thank section editor Scott Vitell and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive and developmental feedback and guidance during the review process. Furthermore, we very much thank Ms. Susannah Davis for contributing to the conceptual argument of this study and for her editing work on the manuscript. Yanyan Chen acknowledges financial support through the University of Nottingham Ningbo China Ph.D. scholarship program.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Human and animal rights
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the authors’ institution and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. The research project has been reviewed and was approved according to the ethical review processes in place in the University of Nottingham Ningbo China.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
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