Dr Maggie CHU Ying Ying (B&A)
In recent years, there has been a heated debate about waste management in Hong Kong. Every year, more than 6 million tons of municipal solid waste are produced, putting a big burden on our existing waste management facilities, particularly the three landfills. Worse still, the present consumption-led lifestyle has speeded up the growth of many types of solid waste. Products often end up unused or partially used before being sent to the landfills. People often buy products without regard to their actual needs - for example, ordering too much food in restaurants; or throwing away a fully functional phone, merely for a change in style. Despite the controversy over the government's proposed means of dealing with the waste problems in Hong Kong, there is a common consensus that waste must be reduced by changing consumer behavior. How can we encourage more responsible consumption? The proposed project aims to address this issue. In particular, we assume that consumers' decisions to reduce waste are governed by negative emotional reactions that are associated with wasting, in particular, shame and guilt. We will examine the underlying process by which these emotions affect consumer behavior and the factors giving rise to these emotions.
Although shame and guilt are related, they differ in a number of important psychological dimensions (Han, Duhachek, & Agrawal, 2014; Lindsay-Hartz, 1984; Niedenthal, Tangney, & Gavanski, 1994; Tangney, 1990; Tangney, Miller, Flicker, & Barlow, 1996). For example, when people feel guilty, they perceive themselves to have engaged in bad behavior and thus become motivated to take action to undo the harm they have caused. When people feel shame, however, they see themselves as "bad persons" more generally, and this gives rise to a tendency to avoid situations in which they are likely to be evaluated negatively. In the context we are considering, therefore, these emotions can have different implications for behavior. That is, guilt tends to motivate more constructive behavior (e.g., to reduce purchase quantity next time and to reuse an old phone), whereas shame tends to result in more passive responses. However, guilt and shame can often coexist. Therefore, an understanding of what gives rise to these emotions and the conditions in which each has the predominant effect is important.
Previous research seems to suggest that the experience of guilt and shame are both preceded by some sort of social comparison. However, the target of comparison tends to be different. People feel guilty particularly when they find themselves over-privileged in relation to others (Baumeister, Stillwell, & Heatherton, 1994) - for example, when one wastes uneaten food while others are starving (i.e., a downward comparison). On the other hand, the experience of shame entails a comparison with others that unveils one's inferiority (Lindsay-Hartz, 1984), such as comparing oneself with others who have acted responsibly (i.e., an upward comparison). In combination, if the situation activates these different comparisons, they can have different effects on consumption behavior.
We speculate that the experience of shame will lead consumers to reduce waste if doing so enables them to gain social approval (i.e., to be accepted and more positively evaluated by others). This is because shame is characterized by a feeling that one's wrongdoing (e.g., having consumed irresponsibly) is socially exposed and disapproved of by the observing others (actual or imaginary). Therefore, when reducing waste can serve as a means to gain social approval, the shame-laden consumers would be more likely to do so. But since the desire to regain social approval is not core to the experience of guilt, its effect on consumer behavior should not depend on this contingency. To conclude, the potential findings of this project would provide policymakers with important insights into how to stop wasteful consumption by influencing people's experience of guilt and shame associated with wasting.
Research Output and/or Accessible Raw Data
|• ||Chu, M. Y. Y. (2017). Don’t Be A Big Waster! Regulating Consumer Behaviors Through The Experience of Guilt and Shame. Paper presented at the 39th Annual ISMS Marketing Science Conference, Los Angeles, 7–10 June 2017.|
|• ||Chu, M. Y. Y. (2017). Encouraging Green Behaviors By Evoking Guilt and Shame Emotions in Social Advertising. Paper presented at The Asia Pacific Tourism Association (APTA) 2017 Annual Conference, Busan, 18–21 June 2017.|
|• ||Chu, M. Y. Y., Yim, F. H. K., Wan, L. C., Chan, E. K. Y. (2018). Do Moral Emotions Make People Responsible Consumers? A Preliminary Investigation of Incidental Guilt and Shame. Paper presented at 2018 Global Marketing Conference, Tokyo, 26–29 July 2018.|
|• ||Chu, M. Y. Y. (2018). How Emotions Turn People into Irresponsible Consumers: The Negative Implications of Chronic and Context-induced Shame. Paper presented at the International Conference and Workshop on Experiential Approach to Consumer Decision Making, Taichung, 27–31 December 2018.|
|• ||Chu, M. Y. Y., Wan, L. C. (2019). All Hands on Deck: Motivating or De-motivating Responsible Consumption? The Divergent Influences of Moral Emotions. Paper presented at the 2019 Academy of Marketing Science Annual Conference, Vancouver, 29–31 May 2019.|