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Why do good people do bad things? The effect of ethical ideology, guilt proneness, and self-control on consumer ethics

Denni Arli (Department of Marketing, Griffith University, Nathan, Australia)
Cheryl Leo (Faculty of Business and Economics, Murdoch University, Perth, Australia)

Asia Pacific Journal of Marketing and Logistics

ISSN: 1355-5855

Article publication date: 13 November 2017




Various studies showed that unethical behaviours committed by consumers occur more frequently than may be expected. People have stolen from a shop at some time in their life and remained silent, people walk out of a grocery store have stolen something from the store and employees have stolen from their workplace. Why seemingly good people do bad things and vice versa? What factors contribute to this discrepancy? Hence, the purpose of this paper is threefold: first, to examine the impact of ethical ideology on self-control and guilt proneness; second, to examine the roles of self-control and guilt proneness in consumer ethical decision making; and finally, to explore the mediating effects of self-control and guilt proneness on the relationship between consumer ideology and ethical decision making.


The authors collected a non-probability sample using a cross-sectional online survey of adult consumers across Australia wide. The sampling frame was from a pre-recruited online panel company Permissioncorp. Consumers were introduced to the study in relation to their beliefs in general consumer ethics behaviours. The response rate for the survey invite was 17.9 per cent, with a final sample size of 311 consumers out of 3,246 that were invited to participate based on the these screening criteria, i.e. their country of birth (Australia only), gender, age group, and state in which they reside to ensure representation across these groups.


The results showed that idealism was a positive determinant of guilt proneness and self-control, whereas relativistic individuals were less prone to guilt and less able to control their behaviour. In addition, there was a significant negative correlation between self-control and unethical consumer behaviour. Finally, both self-control and guilt proneness had an indirect mediating effect on the relationship between ethical ideology and consumer behaviour.


This is one of the first studies to explore the interactions between ethical ideology, self-control, guilt proneness, and consumer ethics.



Arli, D. and Leo, C. (2017), "Why do good people do bad things? The effect of ethical ideology, guilt proneness, and self-control on consumer ethics", Asia Pacific Journal of Marketing and Logistics, Vol. 29 No. 5, pp. 1055-1078.



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