Willful ignorance: the avoidance of ethical attribute information

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Ehrich, Kristine Renee

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Product attribute information is not always readily available to consumers. This is especially true for ethical attributes such as labor practices, environmental friendliness, animal testing, etc. Normatively, consumers who would use an attribute in their decision making should seek that attribute information, especially if it is offered or is easily obtainable. Additionally, it seems clear-cut that if a consumer especially cares about an attribute, information about this attribute should be requested in order that it might be used in making a more well-informed decision. To avoid the attribute information would not be the obvious option. Yet, in a series of studies, I show that avoidance of ethical attribute information does occur, often when one would least expect it. In three studies I measure discrepancies between requests for available ethical attribute information and actual use of the same attribute information in a conjoint task. In both between-subject and within-subject designs I show that consumers (1) avoid ethical attribute information, and (2) counter-intuitively, are especially likely to avoid the information if they care about the underlying ethical issue. The avoidance of negative emotions, especially the avoidance of anger, appears to drive this patently nonnormative behavior. These findings add to the growing literature on avoidance and consumer decision making, and furthermore help to clarify why ethical attributes do not appear to play as strong a role in the marketplace as might be expected.