The Upsides of Moral Outrage

Posted on October 27, 2018

A lot of political headlines have been dominating the news of late, and it has divided people into camps based on their opinions about the issues at hand. While political news are nothing new, what is particularly interesting about the recent spate of political happenings seem to cross into the moral realm as well, generating a spate of moral judgments and emotions from readers, one of these being moral outrage.

While it is often discouraged as it was thought to be unconducive to generating proper civil discourse about the issues, moral outrage may actually bring about several benefits in the long-run. Though it may result in short-term detriments such as an escalation of the conflict, it may encourage the willingness to take part in action to bring about positive changes in the long-run.

The psychological definition of moral outrage suggests that it is anger that is provoked by the violation of one’s perceived moral standards.
To illustrate, researchers point to a recent study that showed that women who displayed anger after reading that majority of men held misogynistic beliefs later went on to join movements calling for equal salaries for both genders, and it was also able to predict their willingness to participate in future political movements.

Psychologists suggest that by labelling emotions as exclusively good or exclusively bad is not constructive because they could hinder attempts to bring about positive social changes. For example, empathy is often thought to be the positive counterpart to outrage and often encouraged, but it may have the consequence of lowering motivation to bring about change because it calls for suppression of reactions and emotions, which may thus be unhelpful in addressing the problem constructively.

Hence, the studies that show the costs of anger or moral outrage seemed to focus only on the short-term effects and interpersonal conflicts, while neglecting to examine the potential long-term positive effects on willingness to participate in collective movements and take concrete actions. It appears that this may be due to the emotion’s ability to garner individuals’ concern about the issue which motivates them to take concrete, pro-social actions to change the undesirable aspects that provoked their moral outrage in the first place.


Category(s):Anger Management, Empathy

Source material from Medical Xpress


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