Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Deborah A. Small


In their words and actions, people are motivated to appear morally good, socially conscious, and politically correct. Yet while having a reputation for strong moral character can be extremely valuable, cultivating such a reputation can be a tricky business. Indeed, individuals who advertise their commitment to moral causes or who weigh in on hot-button social issues are often met with skepticism or scorn, and sometimes castigated as disingenuous braggarts or tactless virtue-signalers. To date, work in this area has focused primarily on the ways in which people try to broadcast their morality (e.g., by donating time and money, purchasing cause marketing products, voicing their political opinions online, or boycotting transgressive individuals or brands) and on how such strategies are received by others. By contrast, much less is known about the strategies people use to avoid moral and political communication. I present three essays which examine processes of self-censorship and strategic omission, and which highlight their unexpected costs. The first essay investigates people’s reticence to talk about their charitable giving and develops an intervention to remedy it, with an eye towards boosting word-of-mouth fundraising for nonprofit organizations. The second essay explores people’s discomfort sharing attitude-incongruent facts about charged social issues, even facts they simultaneously admit are true and relevant, conceptualizing this behavior as a potential source of misinformation and distortion. The third essay investigates moral neutrality, documenting people’s discomfort with sharing controversial moral opinions, but also their distrust of others who try to avoid moral issues. Drawing on experimental methods from psychology and behavioral economics, these three essays show not only that people use strategic omission strategies to protect their moral reputation and avoid morally-charged conversations, but also that such strategies frequently come with ironic costs for social discourse, for their reputations, or for the greater good.

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