Joshua Grubbs, Brandon Warmke, Justin Tosi, & Alicia James
Originally posted April 5, 2019
Public discourse is often caustic and conflict-filled. This trend seems to be particularly evident when the content of such discourse is around moral issues (broadly defined) and when the discourse occurs on social media. Several explanatory mechanisms for such conflict have been explored in recent psychological and social-science literatures. The present work sought to examine a potentially novel explanatory mechanism defined in philosophical literature: Moral Grandstanding. According to philosophical accounts, Moral Grandstanding is the use of moral talk to seek social status. For the present work, we conducted five studies, using two undergraduate samples (Study 1, N = 361; Study 2, N = 356); an sample matched to U.S. norms for age, gender, race, income, Census region (Study 3, N = 1,063); a YouGov sample matched to U.S. demographic norms (Study 4, N = 2,000); and a brief, one-month longitudinal study of Mechanical Turk workers in the U.S. (Study 5 , Baseline N = 499, follow-up n = 296). Across studies, we found initial support for the validity of Moral Grandstanding as a construct. Specifically, moral grandstanding was associated with status-seeking personality traits, as well as greater political and moral conflict in daily life.
Here is part of the Conclusion:
Public discourse regarding morally charged topics is prone to conflict and polarization, particularly on social media platforms that tend to facilitate ideological echo chambers. The present study introduces an interdisciplinary construct called Moral Grandstanding as possible a contributing factor to this phenomenon. MG links evolutionary psychology and moral philosophy to describe the use of public moral speech to enhance one’s status or image in the eyes of others. Specifically, MG is framed as an expression of status-seeking drives in the domain of public discourse. Self-reported motivations underlying grandstanding behaviors seem to be consistent with the construct of status-seeking more broadly, seeming to represent prestige and dominance striving, both of which were found to be associated with greater interpersonal conflict and polarization.
The research is here.