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Study: Most People Find ‘Ethical Consumers’ Obnoxious

Consumers tend to be irritated by their ethically minded peers, particularly if they’re not as dedicated when it comes to their own buying habits.

That’s one of the takeaways from a recent study that was a collaboration between Ohio State University and University of Texas at Austin, OSU reports.

Beyond determining that most people are disinclined to make a great amount of effort to determine if products they buy were made ethicially (such as not using child labor or being harmful to the environment), the study also showed that people tend to look unfavorably upon those who do make more of an effort in that regard, and the more such consumers they encounter, the even less inclined others become to make ethically motivated purchasing decisions.

“It is this vicious cycle,” Rebecca Walker Reczek, co-author of the study and associate professor of marketing at OSU’s Fisher College of Business, told a reporter for OSU. “You choose not to find out if a product is made ethically. Then, you harshly judge people who do consider ethical values when buying products. Then, that makes you less ethical in the future.”

The study — conducted by Reczek, along with Daniel Zane, a graduate student at OSU’s Fisher College, and Julie Irwin, a professor of marketing at the University of Texas at Austin — consisted of a number of experiments.

One of them asked undergraduates that had been previously determined to be “willfully ignorant” as to whether a brand of blue jeans had been manufactured using child labor to rate consumers that would choose to research clothing manufacturers’ labor practices before making a purchase; the result was that the participants were more likely to denigrate that group of consumers, using terms such as odd, boring and less fashionable than themselves.

“Willfully ignorant consumers put ethical shoppers down because of the threat they feel for not having done the right thing themselves,” said Reczek. “They feel bad, and striking back at the ethical consumers makes themselves feel better.”

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