Zhiying (Bella) Ren

Zhiying (Bella) Ren
  • Doctoral Candidate

Contact Information

  • office Address:

    500 Jon M. Huntsman Hall
    3730 Walnut Street
    Philadelphia, PA 19104

Research Interests: social influence; interpersonal judgement; conversations; emotions

Links: Beyond Beliefs: Social Motives for Sharing Conspiracy Theories


  • Zhiying Ren, Eugen Dimant, Maurice Schweitzer (2023), Beyond belief: How social engagement motives influence the spread of conspiracy theories, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 104.

    Abstract: Across a pilot study and three preregistered experiments (N = 4128), we demonstrated that people knowingly shared conspiracy theories to advance social motives (e.g., to receive “likes”). In addition to accuracy, people seemed to value social engagement (e.g., “likes” and reactions). Importantly, people not only expected most conspiracy theories to generate greater social engagement than factual news, but they were also more willing to share conspiracy theories when they expected such theories, compared to factual news, to generate sufficiently greater levels of social engagement. In an interactive, multi-round, content-sharing paradigm, we found that people were very sensitive to the social feedback they received. When they received greater social feedback for sharing conspiracy theories than factual news, participants were significantly more likely to share conspiracy theories, even when they knew these theories to be false. Our findings advance our understanding of why and when individuals are likely to share conspiracy theories and identify important prescriptions for curbing the spread of conspiracy theories.

  • Zhiying Ren, Einav Hart, Emma E. Levine, Maurice Schweitzer (2022), The shared responsibility model of deception, Current Opinion in Psychology.

    Abstract: Deception scholarship has focused on deceivers and has largely conceptualized targets as passive victims. We integrate the articles in this special issue, along with a broad body of literature on deception, moral judgment, and blame, to introduce the Shared Responsibility Model of deception (SR Model). The SR Model conceptualizes deception as a social process to describe how both communicators and targets are responsible for deception. Observers’ perception of the targets’ responsibility is a function of (1) whether targets should have expected deception, (2) whether targets took preventive actions, (3) targets’ inferred motives, and (4) targets’ characteristics. The SR Model also challenges the implicit assumption that as communicators’ responsibility for deception increases, targets’ responsibility decreases. The SR Model has important implications for research on ethics, communication, and behavioral decision making.

  • Zhiying Ren, Andrew Carton, Eugen Dimant, Maurice Schweitzer (2022), Authoritarian Leaders Share Conspiracy Theories to Attack Opponents, Galvanize Followers, Shift Blame, and Undermine Democratic Institutions, Current Opinion in Psychology.

    Abstract: Although many virtuous leaders are guided by the ideal of prioritizing the needs and welfare of their subordinates, others advance their self-interest at the expense of the people they purport to serve. In this article, we discuss conspiracy theories as a tool that leaders use to advance their personal interests. We propose that leaders spread conspiracy theories in service of four primary goals: 1) to attack opponents; 2) to galvanize followers; 3) to shift blame and responsibility; and 4) to undermine institutions that threaten their power. We argue that authoritarian, populist, and conservative leaders are most likely to spread conspiracy theories during periods of instability.

Awards and Honors

  • Russell Ackoff Research Fellowship, Risk Management and Decision Processes Center, 2022
  • Mack Institute for Innovation Management Research Grant, 2022
  • Charles Elias Shepard Scholarship, 2020-2021
  • George James 1st Year Doctoral Fellowship, 2020-2021


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