Buying socially responsible goods isn’t just something people do to feel good about themselves. In fact, the act seems to be tied to an innate dislike of money viewed as "tainted."
A recent University of California, Berkeley study examined the psychology behind consumer buying trends, such as socially responsible investing and the boycotting of sweatshop-produced goods. The results of the study suggest that when people perceive money as “morally tainted,” they also view it as having less value and purchasing power.
"Our work suggests morality is an important force shaping economic decision-making," said Jennifer Stellar, a doctoral student in psychology and lead author of the study. "Though we often think $50 is $50, these results demonstrate that when money takes on negative moral associations, its value is diminished."
The study's authors believe their work sheds some light on why companies go to great lengths to avoid the perception that they are accepting money from corrupt investors or profiting from illegal or unethical practices.
"People possess powerful motivations to view themselves as fundamentally good and moral," said Robb Willer, associate professor of sociology at Stanford University and co-author of the paper. "We find this motivation is so great that it can even lead people to disassociate themselves from money that has acquired negative moral associations."
The idea that consumers care where money come from might have implications for marketers looking to appeal to customers with the story of how they do business.
"Money is often believed to separate individuals from their moral values," Willer said. "However, our results suggest that, for most people, morality is a powerful force that shapes economic decisions and even alters how we perceive the value of money itself."
The study was recently published in the online issue of the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.