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Tip of the Hat, Wag of the Finger: How Moral Decoupling Enables Consumers to Admire and Admonish

Amit Bhattacharjee, Jonathan Z. Berman and Americus Reed II
Journal of Consumer Research
Vol. 39, No. 6 (April 2013), pp. 1167-1184
Published by: Oxford University Press
DOI: 10.1086/667786
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/667786
Page Count: 18
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Tip of the Hat, Wag of the Finger: How Moral Decoupling Enables Consumers to Admire and Admonish
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Abstract

What reasoning processes do consumers use to support public figures who act immorally? Existing research emphasizes moral rationalization, whereby people reconstrue improper behavior in order to maintain support for a transgressor. In contrast, the current research proposes that people also engage in moral decoupling, a previously unstudied moral reasoning process by which judgments of performance are separated from judgments of morality. By separating these judgments, moral decoupling allows consumers to support a transgressor’s performance while simultaneously condemning his or her transgressions. Five laboratory studies demonstrate that moral decoupling exists and is psychologically distinct from moral rationalization. Moreover, because moral decoupling does not involve condoning immoral behavior, it is easier to justify than moral rationalization. Finally, a field study suggests that in discussions involving public figures’ transgressions, moral decoupling may be more predictive of consumer support (and opposition) than moral rationalization.

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