When Is Honesty The Best Policy? The Effect Of Stated Company Intent On Consumer Skepticism

By Mark R. ForehandSonya Grier
2002| Working Paper No. 1665

Prior research suggests that consumers evaluate firms more negatively if they attribute the firms business practices to firm-serving motivations rather than to motivations that serve the public good. The authors propose an alternative hypothesis: firm-serving attributions lower evaluation of the firm only when they are inconsistent with the firms expressed motive. As such, the negative effect of consumer skepticism regarding a firms motives can be inhibited by public acknowledgment of the strategic benefits to the firm. The power of this inhibition procedure was demonstrated in an experiment that manipulated the salience of firm-serving benefits and the firms publicly stated motive. Consumer evaluation of the sponsoring firm was lowest in conditions when firm-serving benefits were salient and the firm outwardly stated purely public-serving motives. This experiment also revealed that the potential negative effects of skepticism were the most pronounced when individuals engaged in causal attribution prior to company evaluation. Finally, this study measured the different effects on attribution and evaluation of two distinct forms of skepticism: situational skepticisma momentary state of distrust of an actors motivationsand dispositional skepticisman individuals ongoing tendency to be suspicious of other peoples motives.