The Moral Psychology of Misinformation: Why We Excuse Dishonesty in a Post-Truth World

Commentators say we have entered a “post-truth” era. As political lies and fake news flourish, citizens appear not only to believe misinformation, but also to excuse misinformation they do not believe. This talk will review recent research on three psychological factors that encourage people to excuse misinformation: partisanship, imagination, and repetition. Each factor relates to a hallmark of “post-truth” society: political polarization, leaders who push “alterative facts,” and technology that amplifies disinformation. By lowering moral standards, convincing people that a lie’s “gist” is true, or dulling affective reactions, these factors not only reduce moral condemnation of misinformation, but can also amplify partisan disagreement. Initial evidence suggests that encouraging people to think carefully about morality (i.e., promoting moral deliberation) can counteract some of these effects and reduce the spread of misinformation.

Daniel A. Effron
London Business School