Acting on Authenticity: Individual Interpretations and Behavioral Responses

Acting on Authenticity: Individual Interpretations and Behavioral Responses

By
David W. Lehman, Kieran O'Connor, Glenn R. Carroll
Review of General Psychology.
2019, Vol. In press

Acting on Authenticity: Individual Interpretations and Behavioral Responses

ABSTRACT

Many individuals in advanced consumer economies prefer authentic producers, products, and services. An important but overlooked question concerns the psychology behind such preferences: How do individuals act on authenticity when they encounter it? We suggest that the answer resides, at least in part, in the distinction between two fundamental but different meanings of authenticity: (1) attributions that a producer is true to its professed set of values (moral authenticity) and (2) attributions that a producer is true to its assigned or claimed social category (type authenticity). Although this conceptual distinction has long been recognized by prior theory, empirical studies tend to conflate the two meanings. We provide a brief overview of these two interpretations and, in doing so, argue that they are both conceptually and empirically distinct. To that end, we develop a set of generalizable scales for measuring both meanings of authenticity. We go on to posit that individuals will respond differently depending on which interpretation is evoked. Specifically, we suggest that perceptions of moral authenticity will be associated with higher willingness-to-pay whereas perceptions of type authenticity will be associated with positive online ratings. We then examine diners’ responses to their restaurant experiences across a series of multi-method studies in the field as well as experiments; we also report a replication study in the music domain. Taken together, the findings generally support the notion that individuals’ interpretations of and behavioral responses to authenticity indeed vary across the two meanings of the concept.

Keywords: authenticity, moral authenticity, type authenticity, willingness-to-pay, online reviews