Morally questionable actors' meta-perceptions are accurate but overly positive

Jeffrey Lees*, Liane Young, Adam Waytz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We examine how actors think others perceive their morally questionable behavior (moral meta-perception) across a diverse set of real-world moral violations. Utilizing a novel methodology, we solicit written instances of actors' morally questionable behavior (Ntotal = 135), measure motives and meta-perceptions, then provide these accounts to separate samples of third-party observers (Ntotal = 933), using US convenience and representative samples (Nactor-observer pairs = 4615). We find that morally questionable actors can accurately predict how they are perceived, how they are uniquely perceived relative to the average morally questionable actor, and how they are misperceived. Actors who are better at judging the motives of other morally questionable actors also have more accurate meta-perceptions. Yet accuracy is accompanied by two distinct biases: overestimating the positive perceptions others' hold, and believing one's motives are more clearly perceived than they are. These results contribute to a detailed account of the multiple components underlying both accuracy and bias in moral meta-perception.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104371
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
StatePublished - Sep 2022


  • Accuracy and bias
  • Meta-perception
  • Moral judgment
  • Moral motives
  • Preregistered
  • Reputation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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