Events at UBC Sauder

The Moral Psychology of Misinformation

A photo of Dr. Daniel Effron and Dr. Karl Aquino.

What are the implications of a post truth world? The Dhillon Centre is pleased to be hosting a research talk by Dr. Daniel Effron, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at the London Business School, who will be joined by discussant Dr. Karl Aquino, Richard Poon Professor of Organizations and Society at UBC Sauder School of Business.

According to some pundits, we live in a post-truth world, surrounded by fake news, “alternative facts,” conspiracy theories, and dishonesty leaders. One risk of such misinformation is that people will believe it. This talk examines a different risk: that people will sometimes judge misinformation morally permissible even though they do not believe it. As a result, they may be less likely to hold its purveyors accountable and more likely to spread it themselves. I argue that even when people recognize misinformation as false, they will judge it as less unethical to spread if feels intuitively “truthy.” The talk will focus on two psychological factors that increase “truthiness” and shape moral judgments of misinformation in business, politics, and social media: imagination and repetition. A first set of experiments shows that known falsehoods receive less moral condemnation when people imagine how they might become true if circumstances change, or could have been true if circumstances had been different. These effects were particularly pronounced when people were motivated to excuse the falsehoods. A second set of experiments shows that repeatedly encountering the same fake-news article reduces the moral condemnation it receives – even when people know it is fake. Interventions that increase deliberative thinking have potential to reduce these effects, according to preliminary evidence. I will discuss implications for navigating the post-truth world.


  • Daniel Effron is an Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School.  Previously, he taught at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, and was a fellow of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. He earned a Ph.D. in social psychology from Stanford University, and a B.A. in psychology from Yale University (magna cum laude). His research examines the psychological processes that allow people to act unethically without feeling unethical. He also researches how people form judgments of others' wrongdoing. His work has appeared in such scholarly publications as Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Psychological Science, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, and Journal of Consumer Research, and has been featured in such popular media outlets as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, and BBC News. Named one of the "Best 40 Business Professors Under 40" by Poets & Quants, he has been honored with teaching awards from the MBA classes of 2015 and 2020 at London Business School, and a Dissertation Research Award from the American Psychological Association.
  • Karl Aquino is the Richard Poon Professor of Organizations and Society in the Marketing and Behavioural Science Division at the UBC Sauder School of Business.