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Friday, September 9, 2022

Online Moral Conformity: How Powerful is a Group of Online Strangers When Influencing an Individual’s Moral Judgments?

Paruzel-Czachura, M., Wojciechowska, D., 
& Bostyn, D. H. (2022, May 21). 


People make moral decisions every day, and when making them, they may be influenced by their companions (the so-called moral conformity effect). Nowadays, people make many decisions in online environments like video meetings. In the current preregistered experiment, we studied the online moral conformity effect. We applied an Asch conformity paradigm in an online context by asking participants (N = 120) to reply to sacrificial moral dilemmas through the online video communication tool Zoom when sitting in the “virtual” room with strangers (confederates instructed on how to answer; experimental condition) or when sitting alone (control condition). We found an effect of online moral conformity on half of the dilemmas included in our study as well as in the aggregate.


Social conformity is a well-known phenomenon (Asch, 1951, 1952, 1955, 1956; Sunstein, 2019).  Moreover, past research has demonstrated that conformity effects occur for moral issues as well (Aramovich et al., 2012; Bostyn & Roets, 2017; Crutchfield, 1955; Kelly et al., 2017; Kundu & Cummins, 2013; Lisciandra et al., 2013). However, to what extent does moral conformity occur when people interact in digital spaces, such as video conferencing software, has not yet been investigated.

We conducted a well-powered experimental study to determine if the effect of online moral conformity exists. Two study conditions were used: an experimental one in which study participants were answering along with a group of confederates and a control condition in which study participants were answering individually. In both conditions, participants were invited to a video meeting and asked to orally respond to a set of moral dilemmas with their cameras turned on. All questions and study conditions were the same, apart from the presence of other people in the experimental condition. In the experimental condition, importantly, the experimenter pretended that all people were study participants, but in fact, only the last person was an actual study participant, and all four other participants were confederates who were trained to answer in a specific manner. Confederates answered contrary to what most people had decided in past studies (Gawronski et al., 2017; Greene et al., 2008; Körner et al., 2020). We found an effect of online moral conformity on half of the dilemmas included in our study as well as in aggregate.