Witnessing moral violations increases conformity in consumption

Ping Dong, Chen Bo Zhong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Consumers frequently encounter moral violations (e.g., financial scandal, cheating, and corruption) in their daily lives. Yet little is known about how exposure to moral violations may affect consumer choice. By synthesizing insights from research on social order and conformity, we suggest that mere exposure to others' immoral behaviors heightens perceived threat to social order, which increases consumers' endorsement of conformist attitudes and hence their preferences for majority-endorsed choices in subsequently unrelated consumption situations. Five studies conducted across different experimental contexts and different product categories provided convergent evidence showing that exposure to moral violations increases consumers' subsequent conformity in consumption. Moreover, the effect disappears (a) when the moral violator has already been punished by third parties (study 4) and (b) when the majority-endorsed option is viewed as being complicit with the moral violation (study 5). This research not only demonstrates a novel downstream consequence of witnessing moral violations on consumer choice but also advances our understanding of how conformity can buffer the negative psychological consequences of moral violations and how moral considerations can serve as an important basis for consumer choice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)778-793
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Consumer Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017


  • Conformity
  • Consumer choice
  • Moral violation
  • Social influence
  • Social order

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Marketing


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