American Sociological Association

The Beholder’s Eyes: Audience Reactions to Organizational Self-claims of Authenticity

Organizations normally benefit from being perceived as authentic. Yet an ongoing puzzle persists about self-claims of authenticity: although the weight of findings suggests that individuals will devalue organizations touting themselves as authentic, some findings suggest that such self-claims may be rewarded. The authors suggest that this puzzle can be answered, at least partly, by considering two fundamental but different meanings of authenticity. The authors posit that individuals will react negatively when claims concern being true to a category (“type authenticity”), whereas they will react positively when claims concern being true to the organization’s values (“moral authenticity”). A major part of this reasoning involves the emotional reactions evoked by moral claims. In study 1, authenticity claims made in the texts of 1,393 restaurant menus and corresponding ratings of 449,919 online reviews from 2009 to 2016 were analyzed. Study 2 involved an experiment to examine reactions to the two kinds of claims separately. The findings generally support the argument and apparently help explain audience reactions to organizational self-claims about authenticity.


David W. Lehman, Balázs Kovács, and Glenn R. Carroll