In a rather strange findings, scientists have suggested that outrage – specifically, moral outrage – may have beneficial outcomes, such as inspiring people to take part in long-term collective action.
The findings of the literature review is in contrast to what is generally considered about outrage. Outrage is often generally considered a hurdle in the path to civil discourse. Researchers led by Penn State moral psychologists carried out the literature review and combined findings from the fields of moral psychology and intergroup psychology to investigate the dynamics of outrage, which they define as anger at the violation of one’s own moral standards.
In moral psychology, outrage is generally considered a negative emotion that leads to, at worst, an escalation of the conflict, or, at best, virtue signaling and slacktivism, according to Victoria L. Spring, a doctoral candidate in psychology, Penn State. However, she added these studies often focus on the immediate effect of outrage, unlike studies in intergroup psychology, which often suggest that outrage can lead to long-term positive effects through collective action.
Researchers, who present their analysis in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, currently online, cite a study that showed women who read that the majority of men have hostile sexist beliefs exhibit anger, which also predicted intentions to join collective action for equal salaries. Women who showed anger at the sexist beliefs were also were more likely to actually participate in political action later.
The researchers also said that more research should be done on the cumulative, long-term effect of expressing moral outrage, not just the immediate aftermath of an interpersonal exchange, said C. Daryl Cameron, assistant professor of psychology, Penn State and research associate in the Rock Ethics Institute.
“By drawing on the intergroup relations literature, we’re suggesting that there is actually a lot of work in this other area of psychology suggesting that outrage can get you to care, can get you motivated to sign petitions, can get you to volunteer, things which have outcomes that are much longer term than signaling,” said Cameron.
In social media, for example, the researchers cite another study showing that people who express outrage at racist or sexist comments by piling on angry comments on the perpetrator, are often judged more negatively.
The researchers said that future studies should be conducted using this perspective that unites the moral and intergroup psychology fields.