Moral Thin-Slicing: How Snap Judgments Affect Online Sharing of Moral Content

62 Pages Posted: 24 Jul 2022

See all articles by Julian De Freitas

Julian De Freitas

Harvard University - Business School (HBS)

Alon Hafri

John Hopkins University

Date Written: July 22, 2022


Consumers are exposed to a range of provocative moral transgressions online, as when consuming viral videos on social media or morally charged advertisements. Given limits on time and attention, consumers increasingly make moral evaluations in a few seconds or less, leading social media companies to employ interventions that slow them down. These companies are operating under the assumption that snap judgments are inaccurate, but this is in fact unknown. Here we ask whether snap moral judgments online are in fact inaccurate, and how they affect sharing on social media. Using naturalistic “news posts” (headlines paired with real-world photographs of harmful interactions), we find that social media users reliably distinguish accurate from inaccurate moral transgressions presented within the blink of an eye (100 ms) and are more likely to share the accurate content. Follow-up studies with controlled stimuli uncover that this is because consumers are capable of ‘moral thin-slicing’: at breakneck speeds, they independently extract both event roles (who acted on whom) and harm level (harmful or unharmful) in order to find the moral transgressor. In sum, despite the rapid rate at which users consume moral content online, their snap moral judgments are accurate, carrying consequences for consumers and companies alike.

Keywords: Moral Judgement; Thin Slices; Social Media; Fake News; Misinformation

Suggested Citation

De Freitas, Julian and Hafri, Alon, Moral Thin-Slicing: How Snap Judgments Affect Online Sharing of Moral Content (July 22, 2022). Harvard Business School Marketing Unit Working Paper No. 23-002, Harvard Business Working Paper No. 23-002, Available at SSRN: or

Julian De Freitas (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Business School (HBS) ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Alon Hafri

John Hopkins University ( email )

Baltimore, MD
United States

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