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Why do consumers consume prosocially? The equity exchange theory of marketing

Spencer Mitchel Ross, University of Massachusetts Amherst


In order to satisfy consumers' needs and wants, marketers present consumers with choices of products and services through marketplace exchanges (Bagozzi 1974; 1975). Some products and services offered in marketing exchange are prosocial, forcing consumers to consider social, environmental, and economic attributes in their decision making process (Devinney, Auger, and Eckhardt 2010; Peloza and Shang 2011). Prior research in sustainability gives limited consideration to consumer-centric approaches to prosocial consumption research (Sheth, Sethia, and Srinivas 2011). Equity theory (Adams 1963; 1965), a theoretical framework established in the management literature, serves as an appropriate framework for studying how consumers are predisposed to prosocial consumption choices. This dissertation fills a gap inherent to the current, reasoned action paradigm of prosocial consumption research by 1) presenting a framework of equity exchange that helps explain prosocial consumption and 2) investigating—with respect to equity exchange—how individual difference dispositions influence prosocial consumption. This dissertation consists of two essays: In the first essay, "Equity Exchange and Consumer Sensitivity to Prosocial Choices," I present a theory of equity exchange, an operationalized construct of equity exchange—equity exchange sensitivity (Huseman, Hatfield, and Miles 1985; 1987)—and empirical support for equity exchange sensitivity's role in the prosocial consumption literature. In the second essay, "The Role of Equity Exchange Sensitivity in the Price-Perceived Quality Context," I test how equity exchange segments predict prosocial consumption preferences with respect to the price-perceived quality relationship (Levin and Johnson 1984; Rao and Monroe 1989; Zeithaml 1988). This dissertation makes several theoretical and substantive contributions. First, I assess how equity exchange theory can impact how researchers and marketers can take a consumer-centric approach to prosocial consumption behaviors. Second, I review how equity exchange sensitivity segmentation benefits both researchers and marketers in understanding how individual difference dispositions predict prosocial consumption choice. Finally, I present suggestions for future research testing the boundary conditions of equity exchange theory, including the potential to broaden its applicability beyond prosocial consumption to more general consumption decisions.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Ross, Spencer Mitchel, "Why do consumers consume prosocially? The equity exchange theory of marketing" (2013). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3589163.