A new study has shown how people may resort to illegal activities to punish brands if they believe that companies are harmful in some way.
According to a study by researchers at Deakin University in Australia if people believe that a company is harmful in some way–to the environment or to people — then they feel justified participating in illegal activities, such as shoplifting, piracy or hacking, even if they haven’t personally been wronged in any way.
In one study participants were introduced to a fictitious pharmaceutical company that produced drugs to treat Parkinson’s disease and a bacterial infection called Brucellosis. Some of the participants learned that the company planned to increase the price of the drug by 300 percent to generate considerably more profit, even if it meant that certain customers could no longer afford the medication. Other participants learned that the company would not raise prices despite the profit benefits.
The researchers discovered that the participants who were told that the company was raising prices were significantly more willing to punish the company via unethical means, such as lying, cheating or stealing.
To better understand why consumers violate their personal code of ethics in these situations, the researchers conducted another experiment in which participants read a report stating that on average, Internet speeds in the United States are consistently below advertised speeds.
The federal report explained that this occurs because many ISPs intentionally cap speeds at 20 percent lower than advertised speeds. One group of participants was told that their Internet speeds had in fact underperformed, and they were asked to sign a letter to the ISP asking for a 10 percent discount on monthly fees. The other group was told that their Internet speeds were as advertised, but they should still sign the letter based on the findings in the federal report. Even though their Internet speeds were good, they were encouraged to lie to justify the discount and capture the company’s attention.
Typically, people feel emotional consequences when they engage in unethical behavior, but the researchers found that negative feelings, such as guilt, were absent because people felt that the company was cheating customers.
The researchers discovered that this desire to punish companies perceived as harmful is also reflected in the real world. Participants rated how harmful they perceived a variety of different industries, such as pharmacies, supermarkets and home improvement stores. On average, the more harmful the ratings, the greater the rates of theft were in these industries.