Research Topics & Methods

The main research focus of Dr. Laura Marie Schons is to explore the responsibilities of corporations and consumers in society as well the respective reactions of stakeholders to the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities of companies. Thereby, her work is characterized by a strong empirical orientation: using qualitative as well as quantitative methods she analyzes data on firm-, customer-, and employee level. Her main interest lies in the search for answers to the question how corporations can do business in responsible ways in the face of altered stakeholder expectations and globalized market structures. For this purpose, she examines the balanced consideration of diverse interests of company-internal and external stakeholders and whether corporations actually “walk their talk”, i.e., whether they live up to the promises they make in terms of responsibility. Moreover, she is interested in the question whether consumers can be seen as responsible for the negative consequences incurred by their consumption choices and how consumers can be effectively persuaded to adopt more sustainable consumption patterns. Thus, her research interests can be broken down into the two fields of corporate and consumer responsibility (please see Figure below).


Work in progress

“One size does not fit all- an investigation of the effectiveness of inclusive and skills-based employee volunteering programs”

Most large companies have implemented corporate volunteering programs, offering their employees the possibility to volunteer for social causes during their regular work-hours. Extant research has revealed that employee volunteering has beneficial effects not only for the employee volunteer herself, but that it also boosts employee’s motivation and work engagement and thus benefits the employing company. Although the corporate volunteering programs that can be observed in practice take various different forms, including “inclusive” and “skills-based” volunteering programs (specific work-related skills are needed for the volunteering task in the latter form), and although there are good reasons to expect that one type of program does not fit all employees or contexts, no previous studies have attempted to empirically investigate this issue. We intend to answer the question whether varying forms of employee volunteering programs lead to different benefits for the employee volunteers themselves as well as for the employing company.

“Is Sharing up for Sale? A Field-Experimental Study on the Erosion of Social Norms of Sharing through Market-Pricing Business Models of the Sharing Economy”

The so-called “sharing economy”, meaning peer-to-peer based sharing of resources, is growing at an ever increasing pace. Interestingly, the business models within the sharing economy are everything but homogeneous, covering exchange mechanisms that range from classical market exchanges involving negotiated prices to exchanges that are based on gift-giving and reciprocity. Past research has neglected the question whether different exchange mechanisms in the sharing economy may lead to varying behavioral outcomes. Whereas “sharing” is an activity of social exchange, based on norms of gift-giving and reciprocity, pay-for business models of the sharing economy belong to the realm of market exchanges. We propose that pay-for business models of the sharing economy cause an erosion of social norms: the context in which they are embedded create social exchange relationships which are violated by the application of a market-pricing exchange mechanism. We hypothesize that a mismatch may lead to a crowding-out of the intrinsic motivation to share resources and that this will be especially pronounced for individuals who are predisposed to behave in materialistic ways. To empirically test our theorizing we conduct a between-subject field-experiment manipulating the exchange mechanism in a sharing economy setting. The results reveal that the use of market-pricing as an exchange mechanism in the sharing economy can lead to crowding-out effects of the intrinsic motivation to share resources. This is especially interesting as the pay-for business models in the sharing economy are emerging as the clear winners in the race, outpacing business models that are based on social exchange mechanisms.

“Not Guilty? The Many Faces of Corporate Social Irresponsibility and the Role of Consumers’ Perceived Culpability as a Determinant of Boycotting”

Almost every day, the media picks up new cases of corporate social irresponsibility (CSI). CSI has many faces and covers a broad range of wrongdoing, ranging from horrendous supply chain working conditions and deceptive advertising to environmental catastrophes. Increasingly, voices grow louder that consumers are partly responsible driving irresponsible corporate behavior through their consumption demands. To date, no research has investigated whether consumers actually acknowledge their complicity in creating the circumstances for irresponsible corporate behavior. Based on consumers’ unaided recall of CSI incidents our study identifies drivers of consumers’ perceived culpability for CSI and analyzes the impact of consumers’ perceived culpability on their attitude toward boycott. To capture the multifaceted nature of CSI, our study also establishes a framework for categorizing CSI incidents by drawing on stakeholder theory. Findings underline that consumers acknowledge their culpability for certain CSI types, e.g., for unethical working conditions in supply chains. Furthermore, a high stability of the CSI incident, consumers’ own prior purchase frequency and a high level of perceived effectiveness were identified as drivers for consumers’ culpability, whereas a clear locus of control on company-side decreases consumers’ culpability. Results also show that consumers’ perceived culpability significantly elevates their boycott attitude.

“Meat is Murder! How Guilt Appeals Work”

This paper studies the influence of guilt appeals on sustainable consumption. In three experiments, the authors reveal that out of all types of appeals typically used in practice (i.e., self/other benefit and positive/negative framing) guilt appeals have the strongest positive effect on real purchases of sustainable products (study 1) and sustainable purchase intentions (study 2 and 3). Concerning individual difference factors, the authors reveal that this result only holds for consumers high in perceived consumer effectiveness (PCE) (study 2). Digging deeper into underlying processes, the authors show that consumers experience moral ambivalence as the result of guilt appeals, which, in turn, increases their purchase intentions for a sustainable product option (study 3). Finally, taking into account situational boundary conditions, study 3 illustrates that guilt appeals only elicit moral ambivalence in situations in which consumers perceive a high internal locus of control (LOC). The findings extend existing research on persuasion by demonstrating the moderating role of PCE and LOC in the effectiveness of guilt appeals, as well as the underlying process through which guilt appeals operate.