Who Deserves Faulty Products? How Blaming the Victim Prevents Consumer Punitive Action

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Journal of Consumer Psychology

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A core requirement of a functioning free‐market system is that consumers hold companies accountable for selling faulty products. Following a harmful product failure, any blame that is incorrectly directed toward the victim may threaten consumer well‐being. Four experiments—in contexts of both fictitious and actual high‐profile product failures—show that this may in fact occur. The findings show that for a victim possessing immoral character: (a) consumers exaggerate blame because, (b) the victim is seen as deserving of suffering in general and, as a result, (c) consumers are less likely to take punitive action against the company (e.g., petition signing, negative word of mouth, and supporting financial justice). One field experiment and three online experiments converge to show that morality's effects are unique from other traits (e.g., sociability), but may be attenuated based on severity of harm to the victim and consumers’ own beliefs about justice. In sum, the current research furthers understanding of how and why victims are blamed, how doing so may threaten consumer and societal well‐being, and how it might be prevented.


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