"We care, and we meant it": Psychological mechanisms influencing perceptions of sincerity in CSR communication
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The overarching topic in this dissertation is psychological mechanisms involved in the perceptions of sincerity in CSR communication. The dissertation consist of three papers, all revolving around sincerity-perceptions in different types of CSR communications. The first paper presents an experiment exploring the effects of positive and negative framing on persuasion and persuasion knowledge in CSR communication. The conclusion of that paper is that negativity bias affects the processing of negative CSR communication, which makes the number and quality of claims less important, and elevates the level of persuasion knowledge. The second paper presents two experiments demonstrating that a decision maker can come across as more motivated by intrinsic values, and less by extrinsic factors, if she seems particularly aware of her own mortality at the time she makes the decision. The third paper explores the role of cognitive decision style as signal of sincerity in CSR communication. The experiment demonstrates that a leader who claims to have made a CSR decision in a partially spontaneous manner is perceived as having less persuasive intent than a leader who made the same decision through willful deliberation. The reduction in persuasion knowledge associated with a somewhat spontaneous decision style is found to be indirectly associated with sincerity in motivational attribution, and positive evaluation of the leader. However, the third paper also demonstrates that claiming complete cognitive spontaneity as decision style leads to unfortunate results in terms of persuasive appeal and motivational attribution. All in all, the three papers represent attempts at combining novel findings from social and moral psychology into the applied setting of CSR communication. A common conclusion from all three papers is that attributions, both regarding communicative intention and behavioral motives, are the mechanisms through which CSR communication is processed. Aside from increasing our general understanding of persuasion mechanisms, the results carry managerial implications for individuals and organizations who wish to portray themselves as socially responsible and morally virtuous.