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

50 Pages Posted: 24 Jul 2022 Last revised: 7 Dec 2022

See all articles by Julian De Freitas

Julian De Freitas

Harvard University - Business School (HBS)

Alon Hafri

John Hopkins University

Date Written: December 2022


Given limits on time and attention, people increasingly make moral evaluations in a few seconds or less, yet it is unknown whether such snap judgments are accurate or not. On one hand, the literature suggests that people form fast moral impressions once they already know what has transpired (i.e., who did what to whom, and whether there was harm involved), but how long does it take for them to extract and integrate these ‘moral atoms’ from a visual scene in the first place to decide who is morally wrong? Using controlled stimuli, we find that people are capable of ‘moral thin-slicing’: they reliably identify moral transgressions from visual scenes presented in the blink of an eye (< 100 ms). Across four studies, we show that this remarkable ability arises because observers independently and rapidly extract the atoms of moral judgment — event roles (who acted on whom) and harm level (harmful or unharmful). In sum, despite the rapid rate at which people view provocative moral transgressions online, as when consuming viral videos on social media or negative news about companies’ actions toward customers, their snap moral judgments about visual events can be surprisingly accurate.

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 (December 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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