The Impact of the Guilt Emotion When Benefiting At the Expense of the Seller

Guilt is “an individual’s unpleasant emotional state associated with possible objections to one’s own actions, inaction, circumstances, or intentions” (Baumeister, Stillwell and Heatherton 1994 p.245). In the psychology literature a lot of attention has been devoted to the vital role of guilt in behavioral tendencies as this emotion is found to be a pervasive aspect of everyday life. In consumer behavior, however, the guilt emotion has been rather neglected despite its identification as a key consumption emotion (Dahl, Honea and Manchanda 2003). In line with the increasing attention for discrete emotions in consumer behavior and behavioral decision making research, the current research sought to get an insight into the eliciting conditions, subjective feelings, and behavioral consequences of the affective experience of guilt in consumer behavior. More specifically, as guilt is generally acknowledged as a moral emotion, we used the context of questionable consumer situations in which the consumer benefits at the expense of the seller by committing a moral transgression (e.g. shoplifting, copying cds and software, receiving too much change and not saying anything). Since the pioneering study of Muncy and Vitell (1992) an important stream of research has emerged involving inappropriate consumer practices as these may compose a major problem for retailers (for a recent overview see Vitell 2003). Scrutinizing the role of guilt in the context of questionable consumer situations may contribute to a better understanding of why some benefit at the expense of the seller (while others do not), which in turn could be very helpful in ultimately curtailing consumer misbehavior in the retail setting.


Sarah Steenhaut and Patrick Van Kenhove (2006) ,"The Impact of the Guilt Emotion When Benefiting At the Expense of the Seller", in LA - Latin American Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, eds. Silvia Gonzalez and David Luna, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 37-37.


Sarah Steenhaut, Ghent University, Belgium
Patrick Van Kenhove, Ghent University, Belgium


LA - Latin American Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1 | 2006

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