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Friday, December 20, 2013

The Interactive Effect of Anger and Disgust on Moral Outrage and Judgments

By Jessica M. Salerno and Liana C. Peter-Hagene
Psychological Science, October 2013; vol. 24, 10: pp. 2069-2078.
first published on August 22, 2013

Abstract

The two studies reported here demonstrated that a combination of anger and disgust predicts moral outrage. In Study 1, anger toward moral transgressions (sexual assault, funeral picketing) predicted moral outrage only when it co-occurred with at least moderate disgust, and disgust predicted moral outrage only when it co-occurred with at least moderate anger. In Study 2, a mock-jury paradigm that included emotionally disturbing photographs of a murder victim revealed that, compared to anger, disgust was a more consistent predictor of moral outrage (i.e., it predicted moral outrage at all levels of anger). Furthermore, moral outrage mediated the effect of participants’ anger on their confidence in a guilty verdict—but only when anger co-occurred with at least a moderate level of disgust—whereas moral outrage mediated the effect of participants’ disgust on their verdict confidence at all levels of anger. The interactive effect of anger and disgust has important implications for theoretical explanations of moral outrage, moral judgments in general, and legal decision making.

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General Discussion

Two studies confirmed that moral outrage is distinguishable from pure anger by demonstrating that moral outrage results from a combination of anger and disgust—even when the transgression did not include a body-disgust violation (funeral picketing). Despite often being characterized as the central emotional component of moral outrage, anger predicted moral outrage only when it co-occurred with at least a moderate level of disgust, and disgust predicted moral outrage only when it co-occurred with at least a moderate level of anger. In fact, disgust was a more consistent predictor of moral outrage in Study 2—it significantly predicted moral outrage at all levels of anger (and even in the absence of anger). This may be the case because disgust (vs. anger) is more resistant to mitigating evidence (Russell & Giner-Sorolla, 2011), which was presented in Study 2 (i.e., the defense’s case) but not in Study 1.

Furthermore, moral outrage mediated the effect of both disgust and anger on judgments with serious real-life consequences: murder verdicts. Anger increased moral outrage, which in turn increased participants’ confidence in a guilty verdict—but only when it co-occurred with at least moderate levels of disgust. Disgust predicted confidence in a guilty verdict through moral outrage, however, at all levels of anger. Because both anger and disgust are associated with certainty appraisals that decrease cognitive processing, each emotion might encourage greater reliance on the other when making judgments.

The entire article is here.
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