An Empirical Test of a Model of Consumer Ethical Delimmas

Lawrence J. Marks, Kent State University
Michael A. Mayo, Kent State University
ABSTRACT - The present study introduces and develops the concept of consumer ethical dilemmas. Hunt and Vitell's (1986) general theory of marketing ethics is used to describe how consumers might resolve their ethical dilemmas. Results indicate that consumers do encounter ethical dilemmas and that the Hunt and Vitell model captures some of the decision making processes consumer may use. A modified version of the Hunt and Vitell model which considers teleological evaluations for the decision maker separately is presented. Additionally, the study investigates how consumers feel during and after the resolution of their dilemma. The concept of consumer ethical decision making is discussed as a future direction for buyer behavior research for the 1990s.
[ to cite ]:
Lawrence J. Marks and Michael A. Mayo (1991) ,"An Empirical Test of a Model of Consumer Ethical Delimmas", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, eds. Rebecca H. Holman and Michael R. Solomon, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 720-728.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, 1991     Pages 720-728

AN EMPIRICAL TEST OF A MODEL OF CONSUMER ETHICAL DELIMMAS

Lawrence J. Marks, Kent State University

Michael A. Mayo, Kent State University

ABSTRACT -

The present study introduces and develops the concept of consumer ethical dilemmas. Hunt and Vitell's (1986) general theory of marketing ethics is used to describe how consumers might resolve their ethical dilemmas. Results indicate that consumers do encounter ethical dilemmas and that the Hunt and Vitell model captures some of the decision making processes consumer may use. A modified version of the Hunt and Vitell model which considers teleological evaluations for the decision maker separately is presented. Additionally, the study investigates how consumers feel during and after the resolution of their dilemma. The concept of consumer ethical decision making is discussed as a future direction for buyer behavior research for the 1990s.

INTRODUCTION

In the decade of the 1980's, researchers have become concerned with the issue of marketing-related ethics. This concern can be seen in a variety of areas, such as the ethics of personal selling (e.g., Kramer 1980), the ethics involved in marketing research (e.g., Akaah and Riordan 1989), and the ethics of creating a product for sale (e.g., Benton 1985). However, given that the field of marketing purports to have a consumer orientation, it is rather interesting to note that the focus of "marketing ethics" has been on the firm and management rather than on the consumer.

This managerial focus is exemplified by Hunt and Vitell's (1986) approach in creating a "General Theory of Marketing Ethics." They model the factors which are thought to influence the manager's decision process for evaluating and solving ethical problems. While their application of elements of moral philosophy to a business perspective is useful, their approach does not explicitly consider the ethical decision making problems which consumers may encounter in marketing-related situations.

The need to consider the consumer's perspective has been recognized by Mowen (1990) who suggests several areas in which consumers may encounter ethical issues and provides a set of normative guidelines for ethical consumer behavior. The concerns Mowen discusses are important, however much work remains to be done in understanding how consumers resolve their ethical dilemmas.

In general, there has been little overlap between the philosophers ideas of ethical behavior and the decisions of the buying public (Katz and Barbash 1982). For example, in the domain of environmental concerns, Katz and Barbash (1982) found that while philosophers have created models based on ethical interests which "transcend the human community ... consumers are still debating among (and within!) themselves the significance of their own competing interests" (p.154). This clearly suggests the need to study the ethical dilemmas with which consumers must contend.

The purpose of this paper is to introduce and define the concept of consumer ethical dilemmas and to test an initial model of consumer ethical decision making. From the perspective taken here, consumer ethical dilemmas are a special type of consumer problem requiring a decision process which is different from that typically used in choosing among products. Certainly, it is commonly accepted that consumers often deal with "problems" in the purchase and consumption process. For example, models of consumer decision making (e.g., Bettman 1979; Engel, Kollat, and Miniard 1990) have always recognized that consumers have problems regarding whether to purchase-product, which brand of a product to purchase, whether to pay cash or use credit, and so on. Such problems, however, are not dilemmas as they do not normally have an ethical or moral dimension. Ethical dilemmas are not specifically covered by existing consumer behavior models. We suggest, then, that "consumer ethical dilemmas" are an interesting and important type of dilemma, which have not been explicitly considered or adequately modeled.

CONSUMER ETHICAL DILEMMAS

A moral dilemma occurs when (a) at least two actions form a conflict, that is, when one action may harm (conflict with) the actions, interests, values of others (or one's self), and (b) "the negative (unintended) consequences of one action are logically implied in positive (intended) consequences of the other action, and vice versa" (Villenave-Cremer and Eckensberger 1985, p.180). If such actions are in the domain of a purchase or consumption situation, then a "consumer ethical dilemma" exists.

An example may help clarify this concept. A consumer wants to buy a foreign-made car. The intended consequence of this action is that the consumer will receive a high status and high quality means of transportation, which will fulfill the consumer's personal values related to quality and personal reward. Purchasing a foreign car, however, has the unintended consequences of contributing to the imbalance of trade and perhaps putting U.S. laborers out of work. Putting American workers out of work and contributing to the trade imbalance both run counter to this consumer's personal values of what is "right," "correct," or "moral" behavior.

On the other hand, while buying the American car results in the intended consequences of helping American workers and not contributing to the national trade imbalance, it also creates unintended consequences because the consumer will not get the desired quality or status which violates the consumer's personal values. This situation is clearly a "consumer ethical dilemma" (it fulfills the definition of a moral dilemma and is domain of purchase and/or consumption). As in most dilemmas, the decision to satisfy one's own desires runs counter to the interests of others, and vice versa. Clearly, marketers (both foreign and domestic, in this case) have an interest in the way in which such dilemmas are resolved.

RESOLVING CONSUMER ETHICAL DILEMMAS

In their general theory of marketing ethics, Hunt and Vitell (1986) summarize-an extensive philosophy literature which deals with how people resolve moral dilemmas. Briefly, the model indicates that marketing managers make judgments about ethical problems by applying both deontological norms (i.e., personal values about "right" and "wrong") and teleological principles (i.e., the consideration of what consequences are likely to occur and how good or bad the consequences will be for relevant stakeholders) to the situation. The exogenous variables to the process include the cultural environment, the industry environment, the organization environment, and personal experiences. There is some evidence that this model may adequately represent marketers' ethical decision making processes (Mayo and Marks 1990).

MODELS OF CONSUMER ETHICAL DECISION MAKING

It seems possible that managers and consumers may resolve ethical dilemmas using similar processes. Like managers, consumers are likely to combine both a deontological and a teleological evaluation to derive a final judgment about an ethical problem. The exogenous variables influencing the consumer, however, are likely to differ from those affecting marketing managers. Thus, the Figure presents a somewhat modified version of Hunt and Vitell's (1986) general theory of marketing ethics. The exogenous variables include the consumer's cultural environment (which encompasses the consumer's subculture and social class), their reference groups (i.e., family, friends, and relevant others), and their past personal experiences.

Except for the suggested revisions in the exogenous variables, the revised model is identical to Hunt and Vitell's original work. It retains the concepts of perceived ethical problem, perceived alternatives, and perceived consequences. The deontological norm construct represents the personal values of the consumer which are used in the deontological evaluation of the dilemma. As in the original model, the consumer is hypothesized to base teleological evaluations on an estimation of the probability of the consequences which will occur from selecting any course of action, the desirability of those consequences to the stakeholders, and the importance of those stakeholders to the consumer.

The ethical judgment of the alternative is then a function of the consumer's deontological and teleological evaluations, and it, in turn, influences the consumer's behavioral intentions. Finally, the actual consequences of the consumer's behavior will become part of the consumers' learning experiences.

Of course, people do not always take the most ethical action. Hunt and Vitell suggest people may intend to choose a less ethical alternative when it leads to a preferred consequence. For example, the less ethical alternative may result in some personal gain. In such a case, the person's intention is affected independently by the teleological evaluation of the alternatives. This suggests that the decision processes which lead to ethical and unethical behavior may be different. Additionally, Hunt and Vitell note that actual behavior may not be consistent with the most ethical choice because of situational conditions which consumers may perceive as "enabling" them to engage in unethical behaviors.

When people choose an unethical alternative they may have guilt feelings (Hunt and Vitell 1986). Relatively little research in the consumer behavior domain has attempted to investigate consumer guilt (see Ghingold 1981). This affective state is interesting in the context of consumer ethical decision making because it may influence the consumer's future behavior.

While the just described model of consumer ethical decision making is quite consistent with the Hunt and Vitell model, there is an interesting question regarding the teleological process. It seems quite likely that consumers will always consider themselves as relevant stakeholders in the decision. If true, it would be important to make a distinction between consequences which result for one's self and those which result for others (e.g., Miniard and Cohen 1983) especially in a dilemma situation. Thus, an alternative way to model the teleological evaluative process would be to consider the consequences for one's self separately from the consequences for others.

THE RESEARCH QUESTIONS

This research was developed to investigate four major questions. First, can (and will) consumers identify and report "consumer ethical dilemmas?" If the first question is answered in the affirmative, the next questions become relevant. Second, how well do the decision processes proposed in Hunt and Vitell's (1986) general theory of marketing ethics explain the resolution of consumer ethical dilemmas? Third, is it necessary to separate the teleological evaluative process into the consequences for self and the consequences for others? Finally, do consumers who choose less ethical alternatives use different decision processes and/or feel more guilt than those who choose more ethical alternatives?

FIGURE

A MODEL OF CONSUMER ETHICAL DECISION MAKING

METHODOLOGY

The Sample

A self-administered questionnaire was developed and made available to undergraduate (juniors and seniors) students taking a marketing course at a Midwest university. Those who desired extra credit in the course were required to fill out the questionnaire and to recruit two non-student adults (over 21 years old) to respond as well. Fifty-five students decided to participate, creating a convenience sample of 165. As will been described in the following section, the questionnaire was long, detailed, and time consuming. Thus, it was not surprising to find that only 47 (28%) of the instruments that were returned were usable. The age of the respondents ranged from 20 to 73 years old, with the average for students being 23.6, while the average for the non-students was 36.5 (sample mean=31.1). Overall, 60% of the respondents were female. In terms of education, none of the students had completed college, while approximately 3% of the non-students had some high school, 15% had completed high school, 44% had some college, 26% had a college degree, and 11% had a graduate degree. Finally, 46% of the non-students reported total household income of under $50,000 per year while 54% reported income of $50,000 or more.

Two observations can be made about this sample. The first is that it is an improvement over the "usual" convenience sample consisting solely of undergraduate students, which is often used for this type of research. Unlike the typical undergraduate convenience sample, this sample has a wide range in all of the demographic variables. The second is that those who provided usable surveys were somewhat unusual. They not only understood the concept of consumer ethical dilemma and were willing to report their experiences, but they were willing to answer a detailed questionnaire that took approximately one hour to complete.

It should be noted that care was taken to assure anonymity to both the students and the nonstudents who were asked to participate. While each person was required to sign and return a consent form, this form was detached from the questionnaire before it was returned. No other identifying marks were placed on the questionnaires. Additionally, each questionnaire was returned in a sealed envelope, so that neither the (student) administrator nor the researchers could identify the respondents. Given the potentially sensitive nature of consumer ethical dilemmas, this guaranteed anonymity seemed critical.

The Questionnaire/Measures

General Instructions. The first page of the questionnaire explained that not all purchases consumers make are simple, and that at times "we are faced with decisions in which any alternative we select goes against some personal value we hold" (i.e., we have a consumer ethical dilemma). Next, a hypothetical example of such a dilemma was provided. It involved the question of whether to buy a diamond ring which was desired, when the diamond was known to be from South Africa. Buying the ring would provide personal pleasure, but it would, in some sense, support the racial policies of the South African government. The respondents were asked to think of and report a consumer ethical dilemma which they had encountered recently. This data collection strategy was preferred over providing a standard set of scenarios to each respondent as typically found in the ethics literature. The scenario approach has been criticized for both failing to create substantial subject involvement and not tapping a "deeper level-of psychological processing" (Smith, Winer, and George 1983). Verbal reports of actual consumer experiences may overcome these deficiencies and provide accurate information (Beniot and Beniot 1984).

To ensure that the situations reported by respondents were truly consumer ethical dilemmas, they were asked to apply the following three criteria: "(1) Was there a DILEMMA? Did you actually consider more than one alternative? (2) Did you feel some discomfort as you thought about your decision? Did thinking about one of the choices make you feel unethical dishonest, etc? (3) Would you judge at least one of the alternatives you actually considered to be relatively ethical, and at least one to be relatively unethical?" If the respondent could answer "Yes" to these questions, then they were told that their situation was probably an appropriate "consumer ethical dilemma."

These three criteria captured the basic elements of the definition of consumer ethical dilemmas provided earlier. In pre-tests we found that respondents listed as "consumer ethical dilemmas" a variety of inappropriate situations. In some cases, the consumer clearly knew from the start what the "right" thing to do was, and intended to do it. In other cases, the consumer had no initial feelings that they were considering doing something "wrong." From the start, they had rationalized their decision and, even though they did the unethical thing, they did not feel uncomfortable about it (e.g., "the store personnel had treated me badly, and so I felt that it was okay to take the blouse.") Finally, some consumers only listed alternatives which they felt were ethical ones. None of these situations adequately fits the definition of "consumer ethical dilemmas" and it was felt that the application of the three criteria would reduce the number of inappropriate responses.

The Dilemma and Alternatives. In the next section, the respondent was asked to provide a complete description of their consumer ethical dilemma and then to list the alternatives that they were trying to choose among. A measure of the impact of the dilemma on the respondent was obtained through seven semantic differential-type scales (7-point scales, anchored with Anxious/Content, Innocent/Guilty, Nervous/Calm, Remorseful/Not Remorseful, Not Embarrassed/Embarrassed, Shameful/Proud, and Ethical/Unethical). These seven items were suggested by pretest results. Respondents were next asked to think back to how it felt as the decision was being made, and to use the scales to rate how they felt as they were making their final decision. After the rating task. the respondents indicated what alternative they actually selected and provided the reason for that choice.

It should be noted that much research into ethical decision making has used a scenario approach (e.g., Hunt and Vitell 1986), in which all respondents rate situations which are created by the researcher. Allowing the subjects to describe and use their own consumer ethical dilemmas assures a degree of realism and involvement which would be hard to achieve with scenarios. Also, this approach provides insight into the types of ethical dilemmas which consumers encounter. However, a this approach does create problems. Even though the respondents were given the criteria to apply to determine whether their situation was a consumer ethical dilemma, many of the completed questionnaires were rejected because the situations described did not fulfill the criteria.

Deontological Evaluations. To investigate the deontological evaluative process which the respondents may have used, they were next asked to list ALL the personal values (i.e., deontological norms) that they considered in resolving the alternative, relevant to both the selected and rejected alternatives. They then indicated how strongly each of these values would have been reflected by each of the alternatives they were considering (+2, strongly agree that the alternative reflects the personal value; -2, strongly disagree). The summation of these ratings reflects a deontological evaluation of each alternative considered.

Teleological Evaluations. The teleological evaluative process was measured by having the respondents first list the people whose opinion or welfare they considered as they thought about each alternative (including themselves). Then for each alternative considered, they provided the major consequences that would have resulted for the stakeholders which were relevant to this alternative. The consequences were rated in terms of their probability of occurring (5=Very Likely, l=Very Unlikely) and their desirability for the party involved (+2=Very Desirable, -2=Very Undesirable). Finally, the importance of the party to the respondent was rated (S Very Important, l=Very Unimportant).

For each stakeholder the product of these three variables (probability x desirability x importance) was divided by the number of consequences considered for that stakeholder. The sum of these scores for all the stakeholders considered for a given alternative provided a measure of the subject's teleological evaluation of that alternative. This teleological score was easily separated into "self" versus "others.

Ethical Judgment. Each alternative considered was rated in terms of how ethical the respondent perceived it to be (5=Very Ethical, 3=Neither Ethical nor Unethical, 1=Very Unethical), providing an overall measure reflecting the consumer's ethical judgment of the alternatives.

This measure also was an important check used to determine the appropriateness of the situation and the alternatives. As previously noted, to be included in the study, at least one alternative had to be rated as "Ethical" (i.e., a 4 or 5) and at least one alternative had to be rated "Unethical" (i.e., a 1 or a2).

Post-decision Feelings. The last measurement taken, excluding the demographics, asked the respondents to think how they felt after they made their final decision, and-to rate their feeling on the same seven semantic-type scales described previously.

RESULTS

Consumers' Ability to Report Ethical Dilemmas

Although the rate of successful completion a the questionnaire was not especially high, it is clear that the first research question can be answered in the affirmative (i.e., people can and will report their "consumer ethical dilemmas"). The questionnaires included in the analysis met the three criteria described earlier. First, they all listed more than one alternative. Second, as Table 1 shows, these respondents felt quite uncomfortable as they were deciding what to do about their dilemma (coefficient alpha=.79 for the 7 items while making the decision, and .91 after making the decision). All o the scale items were directionally appropriate, and all the measures except for "embarrassed" were significantly different from the scale midpoint (p<.01, one-tailed t-tests). Third, the subjects all rated at least one alternative as relatively ethical, and one- as relatively unethical. The mean ethicalness rating of the least ethical alternatives was 1.89, while it was 4.57 for the most ethical alternatives. Thus, respondents can and will report situations which appear to be consumer ethical dilemmas.

The Applicability of the Models

This allows investigation of the question regarding how well the processes described in the Hunt and Vitell model explain the resolution of consumer ethical dilemmas. Table 2 presents the results, using the consumers' judgment of the ethicalness of the selected alternative as the dependent variable. Looking at the full set of subjects, the model based on Hunt and Vitell does not do as well as the model which differentiates between self and others in the teleological evaluative process. In the first case, the model accounts for 11% of the variance (based on the adjusted r-square) in the ethicalness of the selected alternative. Within this model, the teleological evaluative process has a higher beta weight than does the deontological evaluation, and only the former is statistically significant. However, when the teleological process involving self is separated from that involving others, it can be seen that the model accounts for 15% of the variance. In this model, the highest beta weight (and the only one reaching statistical significance) is for the teleological processes involving one's self. This suggests it may be important to create a distinction between the self and other stakeholders when modeling the teleological process.

TABLE 1

MEANS AND STANDARD DEVIATIONS OF SEMANTIC SCALES

TABLE 2

REGRESSION ANALYSIS FOR THE SELECTED ALTERNATIVES

The Process for Ethical versus Unethical Decisions

An interesting question involves consumers who choose an unethical alternative compared to those who do not. In general, it seems likely that people who choose alternatives which they perceive to be unethical go through a different decision process than those who choose either a neutral alternative or an ethical alternative. Consumers who select unethical alternatives must face their own guilt and possibly social criticism which would not apply to those choosing alternatives which are neutral or ethical. Based on this assumption, Table 2 presents the results of consumers who selected unethical alternatives (rated as 2 or less) and those who chose neutral or ethical alternatives (rated as 3 or more).

As Table 2 shows, for both groups the model which separates the self from the others in the teleological evaluation explains more of the variance (16% for the unethical group, 35% for the neutral/ethical group) than the model which does not separate these two constructs (12% and 13%).

Looking at the model based on Hunt and Vitell, teleological processes appear to be more important than deontological processes for the unethical group (although neither reaches a .05 level of significance). Interestingly, this pattern is reversed for the subjects who selected a neutral to ethical alternative. In this case, the personal values represented in the deontological evaluative process is more important (and is significant at the .05 level).

The model which separates the teleological evaluative process into self and others provides some useful insights. First, for both the neutral/ethical and the unethical groups, the standardized beta weights for the deontological evaluative process and the teleological/self process have the same signs and are the opposite of that for the teleological/other evaluative process. This is consistent with what would be expected to occur in an ethical dilemma situation. A dilemma exists largely because what is good for one's self is not good for other people. These results reflect that notion. Second, consumers who choose an alternative which they personally consider to be unethical appear to do so because it has positive consequences for other important stakeholders (however, not positive for themselves). Third, consumers who select the ethical alternative, do so because it supports their personal values (deontological evaluation) and because it provides positive consequences for themselves, even though others may suffer.

Resolution of the Dilemma and Feelings of Guilt

Examination of the means in Table 1 for the consumers choosing a neutral/ethical versus an unethical alternative reveals that there were no significant differences in their reported feelings while they were making their decision. This result is interesting because it suggests that, despite the potential biases involved in retrospective evaluations of decision processes, the subjects apparently were able to "role play" their decision processes without having their actual final decision unduly bias their reported feelings. If there were strong biases created by this retrospective reporting, one would expect to find differences in the reported feelings of the "ethical" and "unethical" subjects before, as well as after, the decision was made. Such differences would be expected as consumers rationalize their decisions after the fact.

However, after the dilemma is resolved, the consumers who selected an alternative which they considered unethical reported feeling significantly more anxious, guilty, nervous, remorseful, embarrassed, shameful, and unethical than did the subjects selecting an ethical alternative (all p<.001).

DISCUSSION

The present study broadens the domain of ethical decision making in marketing to include consumers in addition to its past focus on management. Results indicated that consumers do encounter ethical dilemmas when purchasing goods and services. Additionally, it appears that consumers are able to report in detail the nature of these dilemmas and how they are resolved.

The general theory of marketing ethics proposed by Hunt and Vitell (1986) proved to be a useful model to describe how consumers resolved ethical dilemmas. The present studied modified this model by dividing the teleological process into two parts: consideration of consequences that occurred to the decision maker and those that befell other stakeholders. This division provided additional insights into how the consumers resolved their ethical dilemmas. Initially it appeared that consumers arrived at their ethical judgments of the selected alternatives by teleological (rather than deontological) considerations. Upon further analysis, however, only a subset of teleological considerations (those that directly impacted the decision maker) was an important determinant of subsequent ethical judgments. From this analysis, it appears that consumers may attempt to resolve ethical dilemmas by promoting their greatest self-interest (ethical egoism).

However, this is not always the case. This study shows that, at times, consumers choose alternatives which they consider to be unethical and which may run counter to their own best interests, because of consequences (i.e., benefits) to other people. These results support Hunt and Vitell's (1986, p.10) assertion that people may choose an alternative which is not judged as the most ethical because of certain "preferred consequences."

These results suggest that consumers and marketing managers resolve ethical dilemmas in similar ways. For example, consumers who did not resolve dilemmas in an unethical manner tended to rely on personal values and how their choice would impact themselves as the major determinants of ethical judgment. Consumers, in this respect, are similar to managers who act from ethical principles (rather than majority opinion) and exhibit more consistency between moral judgment and moral action (cf. Trevino 1986). On the other hand, consumers who chose an unethical means to resolve their moral dilemma tended to rely on how their choice would impact other stakeholders as the major determinant of ethical judgment. In this respect, consumers are similar to marketing managers for whom the beliefs of significant others may have a greater impact on ethical decision making than personal beliefs and values (cf. Ferrell, Gresham, and Fraedrich 1989).

The concept of "consumer ethical dilemmas" has implications for marketing practitioners in the 1990's. Because marketing managers whose customers consider the ethical implications of their purchases (e.g., buying foreign automobile, buying non-union products, etc.) have a vested interest in how consumers resolve moral dilemmas, they may want to influence how consumers resolve such dilemmas. The results of this study tentatively suggest that marketing managers might be able to influence consumers to act ethically by emphasizing the consequences to the decision maker themselves. Some support for this notion is found in several contemporary advertising campaigns, such as "Buy U.S.A." and "Buy Union-Made," which emphasize the quality and value that such purchases will bring the consumer.

However, researchers need to develop the concept of consumer ethical dilemmas and ethical decision making further before marketing practitioners can use the concept to revise and plan marketing strategies. Several research questions remain. First, further research needs to determine what kind of purchases are likely to present consumers with ethical dilemmas. Bearden and Etzel's (1982) work on how reference groups influence brand and product choices may be a useful typology to identify purchases likely to have ethical implications for consumers. The results from the present study suggest that reference groups (i.e., teleological considerations that effect other stakeholders) impact unethical choice. Using Bearden and Etzel's work as a base, it could be hypothesized that significant others may exert the strongest influence on ethical choices that involve the purchase of public luxuries (e.g., fur coats). Second, researchers should determine if the consumer's level of moral development (Kohlberg 1981) influences how they resolve ethical dilemmas. In a managerial context, ethical decision making is guided more by ethical principles than group consensus as managers operate at higher levels of moral development (cf. Trevino 1986). It is unknown if this finding can be generalized to consumers. Third, further investigation should be done to determine the personal and situational factors which influence the consumers' selection of an ethical or unethical alternative. For example, the intensity of the clarity of the dilemma may influence Consumers' resolution of the dilemma.

LIMITATIONS

The findings of this study are subject to several limitations. First, the variables measured were suggested by a particular theoretical model. In as much as these variables accounted for as little as 11% of the variance in the consumers' ethical judgments, it seems likely that other unmeasured variables have an influence. Thus, the results are limited by the set of variables investigated. For example, the approach taken here focuses on a cognitive evaluation. However, some researchers have suggested that ethical decisions may be influenced by affective processes as well (Villenave Cremer and Eckensberger 1985). Second, the causal relationships being tested were measured retrospectively. It is certain that the retrospective ratings acquired coin some degree of bias due to the consumers' rationalizations and coping strategies. While it would be quite difficult to obtain measures of the decision process while the dilemma was actually being encountered, such an approach would be an improvement over the methodology used here. Third, while the subjects used in this study represent an improvement over the use of exclusively undergraduate students, it is still a convenience sample and so contains unknown biases which may have influenced the results. Finally, over 70% of the returned questionnaires had to be rejected for reasons including noncompletion or failure to provide an appropriate consumer ethical dilemma. It is unclear how this affects the generalizability of the results.

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