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, 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.

  • Zhiying Ren, Eugen Dimant, Maurice Schweitzer (Under Review), Social Motives for Sharing Conspiracy Theories.

    Abstract: Why do people share conspiracy theories? Recent work suggests that people share misinformation because they are inattentive. We find that people also knowingly share misinformation to advance social motives. Across three preregistered studies (total N=1,560 Prolific workers), we investigate the social motives for sharing conspiracy theories. We find that people are willing to trade off accuracy to build social connections when making content sharing decisions. Moreover, even though people know that factual news are more accurate than conspiracy theories, they expect sharing conspiracy theories to generate higher social value than sharing factual news. Lastly, in an interactive multi-round content-sharing paradigm, we find that social feedback could change the social value people attach to sharing misinformation. Our findings substantially develop our understand of why and when individuals are most likely to share conspiracy theories. These findings also make important contributions to understanding and curbing the spread of misinformation.

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