How Feeling Guilty About Money Affects Spending Decisions: Cleansing the Money or Redeeming Oneself?
56 Pages Posted: 22 Apr 2012 Last revised: 9 Oct 2015
Date Written: October 1, 2015
In this research, we examine how consumers react to receiving money that makes them feel morally uncomfortable and guilty. Whereas prior research suggests that feelings of guilt can trigger a wide variety of pro-social and self-improving compensatory actions, we find that money tainted with moral guilt triggers a remarkably specific reaction. Across eight studies, we find that feeling guilty about money as a result of a moral failure, increases pro-social spending of that tainted money (such as charitable donations), but does not increase self-improvement consumption, pro-social spending of time, or even pro-social spending of other, untainted money. We propose that the exclusive effect on pro-social spending of the tainted money results from both (1) the moral nature of the guilt and (2) its association with the money. In further support of this conjecture, we find that guilt attached to money does increase self-improvement consumption when it is non-moral in nature (i.e., resulting from a private self-control failure), and that moral guilt does increase pro-social spending of time when it is not attached to money. We conclude that participants who feel guilty about the money act as if they aim to cleanse the morally tainted money rather than redeem themselves.
Keywords: moral emotions, emotional accounting, guilt, anger, spending decisions, morality, moral cleansing, money cleansing, money laundering
JEL Classification: M31
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation