When is sensory consumption immoral?

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Date
2022-11-10
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American Psychological Association
Abstract

Although humans are hard-wired to pursue sensory pleasure, they show considerable heterogeneity in their moral evaluations of sensory pleasure. In some societies, sensory pleasure is pursued without any moral inhibition, but in other societies, it is considered to be immoral and actively suppressed. This research investigates the moral motives behind the suppression of sensory consumption. Is the suppression of sensory consumption caused by the moral motive to promote social justice or the moral motive to promote social order? We test these two competing accounts through country-level archival data and seven preregistered controlled experiments. We find robust evidence that the social-order emphasizing binding moral foundations (authority, loyalty, and purity; Haidt, 2007) suppress sensory consumption. Consequently, individuals and societies that adhere to the binding values are less likely to consume sensory products such as alcohol, tobacco, soda, fragrances, and sex toys. These effects are mediated by prescriptive moral beliefs and feelings of shame. We also identify several moderators of the moral suppression of sensory consumption. Binding values do not suppress sensory consumption after moral licensing. The effects of binding values on sensory consumption attenuate when the products are framed as status-affirming. Finally, while binding values suppress sensory consumption that is personal, they do not suppress sensory consumption that is shared. Altogether, our findings show that social-order emphasizing moral beliefs in society can inhibit the pursuit of pleasure and change consumption patterns in the economy. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).

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Keywords
Moral foundations theory, Sensory pleasure, Consumption preferences, Moral judgment, Social justice
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