Skip to main content

Please enter a keyword and click the arrow to search the site

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


Journal of Experimental Psychology: General


Organisational Behaviour

Authors / Editors

Effron D A


Publication Year



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.


Moral judgment, ethics, repetition, familiarity, desensitization, affect, mere exposure

Available on ECCH


Select up to 4 programmes to compare

Select one more to compare
subscribe_image_desktop 5949B9BFE33243D782D1C7A17E3345D0

Sign up to receive our latest news and business thinking direct to your inbox


Sign up to receive our latest course information and business thinking

Leave your details above if you would like to receive emails containing the latest thought leadership, invitations to events and news about courses that could enhance your career. If you would prefer not to receive our emails, you can still access the case study by clicking the button below. You can opt-out of receiving our emails at any time by visiting: or by unsubscribing through the link provided in our emails. View our Privacy Policy for more information on your rights.