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The Emotional Experience of Guilt in Ethically Questionable Consumer Situations

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  • S. STEENHAUT
  • P. VAN KENHOVE

Abstract

The current research scrutinizes the discrete emotion of guilt in situations in which the consumer benefits at the expense of the seller. A first objective was to endorse previous made assumptions of guilt being an important emotion in ethically questionable consumer situations. Therefore, in a first study the experience of guilt (versus shame) is explored across four different questionable consumer behaviors relying on two key ingredients of the guilt emotion, i.e. perceived control and omission/commission. A second objective was to examine what causes guilt to occur in these questionable situations (study 2a/b). Two distinct conceptualizations of the guilt emotion are investigated, i.e. the intrapsychic and interpersonal perspective. Results support both notions of the guilt emotion separately in the context of consumer ethics. When investigating the consequent ethical intentions, it was found to be sufficient for consumers’ behavioral decisions to alter if one of the two perspectives is made salient, that is, when guilt is aroused. Implications are discussed for both consumer ethics literature and consumer behavior research in general.

Suggested Citation

  • S. Steenhaut & P. Van Kenhove, 2006. "The Emotional Experience of Guilt in Ethically Questionable Consumer Situations," Working Papers of Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, Ghent University, Belgium 06/381, Ghent University, Faculty of Economics and Business Administration.
  • Handle: RePEc:rug:rugwps:06/381
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