The Moral Repetition Effect : Bad Deeds Seem Less Unethical When Repeatedly Encountered

Effron, D (2022) The Moral Repetition Effect : Bad Deeds Seem Less Unethical When Repeatedly Encountered. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 151 (10). pp. 2562-2585. ISSN 0096-3445 OPEN ACCESS


Reports of moral transgressions can “go viral” through gossip, continuous news coverage, and social media. When they do, the same person is likely to hear about the same transgression multiple times. The present research demonstrates that people will judge the same transgression less severely after repeatedly encountering an identical description of it. I present seven experiments (six of which were pre-registered; 73,265 observations from 3,301 online participants and urban residents holding 55 nationalities). Participants rated fake-news sharing, real and hypothetical business transgressions, violations of fundamental “moral foundations,” and various everyday wrongdoings as less unethical and less deserving of punishment if they had been shown descriptions of these behaviors previously. Results suggest that affect plays an important role in this moral repetition effect. Repeated exposure to a description of a transgression reduced the negative affect that the transgression elicited, and less-negative affect meant less-harsh moral judgments. Moreover, instructing participants to base their moral judgments on reason, rather than emotion, eliminated the moral repetition effect. An alternative explanation based on perceptions of social norms received only mixed support. The results extend understanding of when and how repetition influences judgment, and they reveal a new way in which moral judgments are biased by reliance on affect. The more people that hear about a transgression, the wider moral outrage will spread; but the more times an individual hears about it, the less outraged that person may be.

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Item Type: Article
Subject Areas: Organisational Behaviour
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© 2022 American Psychological Association.

This paper is not the copy of record and may not exactly replicate the authoritative document published in the APA journal. The final article is available, upon publication, at:

Date Deposited: 28 Apr 2022 15:57
Date of first compliant deposit: 15 Feb 2022
Subjects: Ethics
Information and communication technology, social aspects
Last Modified: 22 Jun 2024 01:40

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