The Malleable Morality of Conspicuous Consumption

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Forthcoming

75 Pages Posted: 12 Jan 2019

See all articles by Shreyans Goenka

Shreyans Goenka

Cornell University, Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Department of Marketing

Manoj Thomas

Cornell University - Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management

Date Written: December 21, 2018

Abstract

Conspicuous consumption has often been decried as immoral by many philosophers and scholars, yet it is ubiquitous and widely embraced. This research sheds light on the apparent paradox by proposing that the perceived morality of conspicuous consumption is malleable, contingent upon how different moral lenses highlight the different characteristics embedded in the behavior. Utilizing the Moral Foundations Theory, we demonstrate that the individualizing values (i.e., equality and welfare) make people focus on the self-enhancing characteristics of conspicuous consumption, making it seem morally objectionable. However, the binding values (i.e., deference to authority, in-group loyalty, and purity) make people focus on the social identity signaling characteristic of conspicuous consumption, making it seem morally permissible. First, an archival dataset shows that the prevalence of the different moral values predicts per-capita spending on luxury goods across different countries. Then, six studies (N = 2903) show that the trait endorsement and the momentary salience of the different moral foundations can influence the moral judgment of conspicuous consumption as well as the propensity to engage in conspicuous consumption. Further, analyses show that the effect of the binding values (individualizing values) is mediated by heightened sensitivity to the social identity signaling (self-enhancing) aspects of conspicuous consumption. Finally, the studies demonstrate that the effect is moderated by the extent of social visibility during consumption. Thus, this research suggests that some moral values can, somewhat paradoxically, increase conspicuous consumption.

Keywords: moral foundations theory, conspicuous consumption, moral judgment, consumption preferences

Suggested Citation

Goenka, Shreyans and Thomas, Manoj, The Malleable Morality of Conspicuous Consumption (December 21, 2018). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Forthcoming , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3305342

Shreyans Goenka (Contact Author)

Cornell University, Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Department of Marketing ( email )

Ithaca, NY 14853-4201
United States

Manoj Thomas

Cornell University - Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management ( email )

353 Sage Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
United States
607-255-7207 (Phone)
607-254-4590 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://forum.johnson.cornell.edu/faculty/mthomas/

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