Ethical Shoppers Don’t Inspire Us—They Bug Us

Two things can happen when people see someone else doing something moral. They can either be inspired by that person or denigrate him or her. They may do the latter because of something psychologists call social comparison theory. It holds that we all have an overarching propensity to compare ourselves to others. If you see someone who is better than you on some dimension, like ethics, you feel threatened. It makes you feel bad about yourself. One way to overcome that is to put the other person down. Until our study, this hadn’t been explored in the context of ethical consumption. We predicted that this negative effect would occur, because how ethical people feel is a really important part of their identity.

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