That's Not How i Remember It: Willfully Ignorant Memory for Ethical Product Attribute Information

Rebecca Walker Reczek, Julie R. Irwin, Daniel Zane, Kristine R. Ehrich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


This research documents a systematic bias in memory for ethical attribute information: consumers have better memory for an ethical attribute when a product performs well on the attribute versus when a product performs poorly on the attribute. Because consumers want to avoid emotionally difficult ethical information (e.g., child labor) but believe they should remember it in order to do the right thing, the presence of negative ethical information in a choice or evaluation produces conflict between the want and should selves. Consumers resolve this conflict by letting the want self prevail and forgetting or misremembering the negative ethical information. A series of studies establishes the willfully ignorant memory effect, shows that it holds only for ethical attributes and not for other attributes, and provides process evidence that it is driven by consumers allowing the want self to prevail in order to avoid negative feelings associated with the conflict. We also ameliorate the effect by reducing the amount of pressure exerted by the should self. Lastly, we demonstrate that consumers judge forgetting negative ethical information as more morally acceptable than remembering but ignoring it, suggesting that willfully ignorant memory is a more morally acceptable form of coping with want/should conflict.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberucx120
Pages (from-to)185-207
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Consumer Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • consumer memory
  • ethical attributes
  • ethical decision making
  • sustainability
  • want/should conflict

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Marketing


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