Shame, guilt and pride: the role of the moral emotions in marketing pro-environmental behaviour

Kathy Keeling, Peter McGoldrick

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


The use of mass transit instead of cars is a pro-environmental behavior that could have a significant impact on the environment. By persuading people to reduce their car use and turn to public transport, considerable reductions on carbon dioxide emissions can be realized. However, social marketing efforts to encourage pro-environmental behavior have a mixed history of success. While factors such as attitudes, habits and environmental norms have been extensively studied in the travel behavior literature, the role of emotions has received less attention. A possible association between moral emotions and behavior can have substantial implications for policy makers. Shame and guilt are painful emotions that arise from evaluations of the self and so are likely to produce a state of dissonance (Festinger, 1957). When an individual experiences this dissonance, he will automatically try to alleviate it by changing either his attitudes or behavior. Because cognitive dissonance has at its centre the individual’s self-concept, dissonance related persuasion can be more effective than simple information persuasion (Aronson, 1980). Therefore, if there is a considerable link between moral emotions and behavior, campaigns designed to invoke dissonance arousal should provide a powerful tool for social marketing campaigns concerning pro-environmental behavior. Nevertheless, behavior is also a function of habits and the relationship and balance between intentions to act and habitual actions must be considered.The Triandis Theory of Interpersonal Behavior (TIB) stipulates that behavior is a function of both intentions and habit. In this study, the TIB is expanded by including three self-conscious moral emotions: shame, guilt and pride as antecedents of intentions. The results show that the TIB concepts of short-term consequences and role beliefs are significant predictors of intentions to use public transport. Personal norms have both a direct and an indirect (through guilt) effect on intentions. Although shame and guilt do not have a significant direct impact on intentions, they do act as mediators of personal norms and normative beliefs. Apart from intentions, habit is an important predictor of behavior. The findings suggest that travel mode choice is not solely a rational decision process but has emotional and habitual elements. From a theoretical point of view, the results confirm that the main premises of the Theory of Interpersonal Behavior (TIB) apply to pro-environmental behaviors but that moral emotions can help explain the impact and role of personal norms and normative beliefs. For practice, social marketing campaigns can also be enhanced by considering the effects of dissonance arousal on pro-environmental behavior choices.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationhost publication
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Event19th Annual Frontiers in Service Conference - Karlstad, Sweden
Duration: 1 Jan 1824 → …


Conference19th Annual Frontiers in Service Conference
CityKarlstad, Sweden
Period1/01/24 → …


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