Pathogens, privilege, and purity: How pathogen threat and childhood socioeconomic status influence consumers’ condemnation of purity violations

Whelan J., Hingston S. T.

Journal of Business Research, vol.142, pp.636-647, 2022 (SSCI) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 142
  • Publication Date: 2022
  • Doi Number: 10.1016/j.jbusres.2022.01.017
  • Journal Name: Journal of Business Research
  • Journal Indexes: Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI), Scopus, International Bibliography of Social Sciences, Periodicals Index Online, ABI/INFORM, Business Source Elite, Business Source Premier, CAB Abstracts, INSPEC, Psycinfo, Public Affairs Index, Veterinary Science Database
  • Page Numbers: pp.636-647
  • Keywords: Purity, Pathogen threat, Childhood socioeconomic status, COVID-19, Norm violations, Moral foundations
  • TED University Affiliated: No


© 2022Violations of moral purity, the moral foundation oriented toward protecting the sanctity of the body and soul, are not limited to social settings: brands, employees, and politicians are guilty of some pretty gross behaviors. Yet, we know surprisingly little about how consumers react to purity violations. In the current work, we propose that condemnation of purity violations is shaped by the combination of pathogen threat and childhood socioeconomic status (SES). We test this prediction across seven studies, collected pre- and mid-pandemic, using experimental manipulations of pathogen threat and measured differences in the perceived threat of COVID-19. We find that when pathogen threat is salient, people who grew up wealthy show a greater increase in condemnation of purity violations than people who grew up poor. Further, our results suggest this effect is due to class-based differences in the perceived controllability of pathogen threats.