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Research Overview

A sample of the topics I'm currently investigating:

For a thorough overview of my research from 2010 to 2022, please see our chapter in Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (full text here).

overview: dishonesty
Why do people excuse fake news and leaders' dishonesty?

Commentators worry we live in a “post-truth” era, surrounded by dishonest politicians, “fake news,” and other sources of misinformation. Why are people sometimes happy to excuse misinformation they recognize as false? My recent research highlights the role of three factors:


(1) Motivation. American partisans thought blatant misinformation was less unethical to spread when it aligned with their political views.


(2) Imagination. Imagining how a false political claim could have been true if circumstances had been different – or might become true in the future – led partisans to judge it as less unethical to tell.


(3) Repetition. Repeated exposure to false-news headlines made them seem less unethical, and increased people’s inclination to “like” and share them on social media.

Ongoing research is developing interventions to shift people's moral judgments about misinformation and reduce its spread.

For more information, see my recent academic publications (1, 2), and read my NYTimes Op-Ed.


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How do we judge people who fail to practice what they preach?

Recent projects examine:


• how hypocrisy is about "feeling better than you deserve" [article]

• how membership in an organization can make employees vulnerable to condemnation as "hypocrites by association" [article]


• when doing good deeds earns people a license to transgress vs. makes them seem like hypocrites when they transgress [article]


• how aversion to hypocrisy prevents good advice from being disseminated [article]


• cultural differences in how harshly people get penalized for "saying one thing but doing another" [article]


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Moral Licensing
How do people convince themselves that they have a license to sin?
One line of my work examines how the ability to point to evidence of past virtue can ironically make people more willing to act less-than-virtuously. For example:
• Endorsing Barack Obama increased people's tendency to express politically incorrect views about race [article]
• When dieters reflected on how their eating behavior "could have been worse," they pursued less "virtuous" dieting goals over the course of the next week [article]
I have also examined how people strategically convince themselves that they have a license to sin. For example, in anticipation of acting less-than-virtuously in the future, people will:

• alter their behavior to act more "virtuously" in the present [article]


• overestimate how virtuous their behavior will seem to others [article]


• distort their memories of how much bad behavior they declined to perform in the past [article]


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