Moral Disengagement and Neutralization Techniques as Explanations of Unethical Behavior

Robyn McCormack*, Rafi Chowdhury

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

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Ethical consumption is important for both consumers and social welfare. However, many consumers avoid or ignore ethical consumption practices. An explanation of the psychological processes that impede ethical behavior is important research. A survey of 436 American consumers reveals that various types of moral disengagement (behavior and victim loci) and neutralization techniques sequentially explain unethical consumer behavior. From a theoretical perspective, both these constructs are relevant in this context, yet prior research utilizes these constructs separately or conflates them. Moreover, findings show that a particular type of moral disengagement, the agency locus, paradoxically promotes ethical consumer behavior. This research also examines locus of control (chance) and trait cynicism as antecedents of unethical consumer behavior. Locus of control (chance), not trait cynicism, leads to less ethical consumer behavior through moral disengagement and neutralization techniques. Insights benefit consumers, marketers, and policymakers in promoting ethical consumption that enhances consumer well-being.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-33
Number of pages33
JournalJournal of Consumer Affairs
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2024


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