Are you a good person, or just being good? : social norms moderate consistency and licensing effects in social media




Ryoo, Yuhosua

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When and why do consumers help more or less after engaging in a prosocial behavior? This question has been an interesting topic of research especially in this time when social media has an influential effect on an individual’s ethical decision making. However, little effort has been made to understand and reconcile this conflicting behavior. Based on two philosophical approaches to ethics (normative and behavioral), this research identifies that consumers act prosocially not only because they are a good person, but they want to be viewed as a good person by others. This research makes novel predictions that these two motives have differential effects on the pursuit of subsequent prosocial behavior, and the dominance of a particular motive is determined by the type of social norms that are used in an initial prosocial campaign. Across three studies, the present research demonstrates that consumers express more favorable reactions toward the subsequent prosocial campaign when their initial prosocial behavior is encouraged by a normative message highlighting what they ought to do – the consistency effect of injunctive norms. On the contrary, consumers show less favorable responses toward the subsequent prosocial campaign when their initial prosocial behavior is motivated by a normative message that described how the majority of people behave in that situation – the licensing effect of descriptive norms. Two dimensions of moral identity (moral internalization and moral symbolization), which represent two motives for helping behavior, mediate the consistency effect of injunctive norms and the licensing effect of descriptive norms, respectively. This paper also proves how an additional moral message highlighting the internal aspects of helping behavior can mitigate the licensing effect of descriptive norms. Three causes that are important in society (helping underprivileged children, helping homeless people, and helping people with disabilities) and two different online platforms (Facebook and a website) are used to ensure the generalizability of the research. This paper is expected to spur future work clarifying divergent findings and examining consumers’ sustainable prosocial behavior



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