How Group Loyalties Shape Ethical Judgment and Punishment Preferences


Correspondence regarding this article should be sent to: Scott A. Wright, Assistant Professor of Marketing, Providence College, 107 Koffler Hall, Providence, RI 02918 (


Once a matter of safety and survival, loyalty is a moral principle deeply rooted in human evolution—one that may wield a profound influence on ethical judgment and conceptions of just punishment. Consumers live in a complex Web of loyalty obligations woven through affiliations with marketers, fellow consumers, and other groups. This article examines how such affiliations shape consumers’ judgments of ethically controversial marketing conduct and preferences for punishment. In general, the more unethical an act is judged to be, the more severe the preferred punishment. However, the findings show that although consumers judge a controversial marketing act as more unethical when an in-group member targets the consumer's in-group (vs. out-group), a more lenient punishment is preferred (Study 1). Additionally, the extent to which one embraces loyalty as a moral value appears to mediate the relationship between group affiliations and preferred punishment (Study 2). This is a bias participants deny having, but believe others exhibit. This research finds evidence of loyalty to the principle of loyalty itself. A person will view an out-group member transgressing a member from that same out-group with disdain similar to that accorded an in-group member who transgresses the in-group, because the innate badness of the act is compounded by the stigma of disloyalty.