Social Contract Theory and the Ethics of Deception in Consumer Research

53 Pages Posted: 3 Feb 2009

Date Written: February 3, 2009


Deception of research participants is a pervasive ethical issue in experimental consumer research. Content analyses find as many as three-quarters of published human participant studies in our field involved some form of deception and almost all of these deceptive studies employed experimental methodologies. However, researchers have little guidance on the acceptability of this use of deception, notwithstanding the codes of root disciplines. We turn to the theories of moral philosophy and use social contract theory to identify conditions under which deception may be justified as morally permissible. Seven principles to guide research practice are formulated and their implications for consumer researchers and others are identified, together with practical recommendations for decision making on deception studies.

Suggested Citation

Smith, N. Craig and Kimmel, Allan J. and Klein, Jill, Social Contract Theory and the Ethics of Deception in Consumer Research (February 3, 2009). INSEAD Working Paper No. 2009/04/INSEAD Social Innovation Centre/MKT. Available at SSRN: or

N. Craig Smith (Contact Author)

INSEAD ( email )

Boulevard de Constance
77305 Fontainebleau Cedex

Allan J. Kimmel

ESCP Europe ( email )

79 Avenue de la Republique
Paris, 75011

Jill Klein


No Address Available

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