Antecedents of Dishonest Consumer Behavior

Thumbnail Image


Kang_umd_0117E_19780.pdf (915.37 KB)
No. of downloads:

Publication or External Link





Consumers engage in a wide range of dishonest behaviors, such as cheating or lying to companies for financial rewards. These dishonest behaviors are costly for companies and consumers. However, relatively little research in marketing has paid attention to consumer dishonesty. In this dissertation, we enhance the understanding of dishonest consumer behavior by examining a few prominent antecedents: a company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives and construal level.

The first essay examines how a company’s CSR initiatives impacts consumers’ dishonest behavior toward the company. Companies are proclaiming their values by taking stands on controversial issues in their CSR. We examine a novel way with which consumers respond to a company’s polarizing CSR: dishonest behavior toward the company. We demonstrate that when the CSR cause is congruent with the consumer’s self-concept, CSR (vs. no-CSR) decreases dishonest behavior by increasing anticipatory self-threat (i.e., if I cheat the company, I will feel like I am a bad person). In contrast, when the CSR cause is incongruent, CSR (vs. no-CSR) increases dishonest behavior by decreasing anticipatory self-threat. We demonstrate an asymmetric effect such that the effect of incongruent CSR is larger than the effect of congruent CSR. Building on the anticipatory self-threat mechanism, we identify a boundary condition in which the backfiring effect of incongruent CSR is attenuated: situational salience of moral identity.

The second essay investigates how construal level—the extent to which people’s thinking about a situation is abstract or concrete—influences dishonest consumer behavior. We show that the effect of construal level on dishonest behavior is moderated by the importance of moral values. We find that compared to concrete construal, abstract construal reduces dishonest behavior when the importance of moral values is high but not when the importance of moral values is low. Importance of moral values is measured as individual differences and situationally primed.

These essays provide valuable insights into consumer dishonesty by demonstrating that different types of factors (characteristics of a company such as CSR and contextual factors such as construal level) influence dishonest consumer behavior. Moreover, these essays provide practical implications for companies seeking to reduce dishonest consumer behaviors.