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Thursday, September 1, 2016

The science of getting angry: Do moral outrage and mob mentality help or harm us?

Apoorva Sripathi
Originally published August 15, 2016

As often as these things go, it's imperative to turn to science for answers. Such as, why do we get wound up about incidents that happen around the world; incidents over which we have no control? Common sense notwithstanding, we go ahead and log on to social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the ilk) to let the immediate world know what's bothering us. Soon, someone else posts an opposing view, which gets us hopping mad — rinse, lather and repeat.

Why do we give in to outrage and what does science have to say about it? Well for one, there are countless platforms to express our frustrations on. Two, some of the platforms give us the freedom to be anonymous — such as newspapers online — which, in turn, encourages participation and risk-taking. Three, getting angry is rather easy when there's always something to be angry about; a judiciously-available trigger.


If not the complete answer, science gives us significant clues as to why we like to shame people online. New York Magazine's Science of Us talks about how stories that were widely shared online were happy in nature, while those that invited nasty comments belonged to the data set termed arousal, or in other words, stories that evoked feelings of anger and distress. Furthermore, shaming (whether online or offline) gives us a clue about the evolution of human behaviour: that we like to indulge in a little something called third-party punishment where we derive joy from punishing strangers.

The article is here.