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Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Outrage Fatigue? Cognitive Costs and Decisions to Blame

Bambrah, V., Cameron, D., & Inzlicht, M.
(2021, November 30).


Across nine studies (N=1,672), we assessed the link between cognitive costs and the choice to express outrage by blaming. We developed the Blame Selection Task, a binary free-choice paradigm that examines the propensity to blame transgressors (versus an alternative choice)—either before or after reading vignettes and viewing images of moral transgressions. We hypothesized that participants’ choice to blame wrongdoers would negatively relate to how cognitively inefficacious, effortful, and aversive blaming feels (compared to the alternative choice). With vignettes, participants approached blaming and reported that blaming felt more efficacious. With images, participants avoided blaming and reported that blaming felt more inefficacious, effortful, and aversive. Blame choice was greater for vignette-based transgressions than image-based transgressions. Blame choice was positively related to moral personality constructs, blame-related social-norms, and perceived efficacy of blaming, and inversely related to perceived effort and aversiveness of blaming. The BST is a valid behavioral index of blame propensity, and choosing to blame is linked to its cognitive costs.


Moral norm violations cause people to experience moral outrage and to express it in various ways (Crockett, 2017), such as shaming/dehumanizing, punishing, or blaming. These forms of expressing outrage are less than moderately related to one another (r’s < .30; see Bastian et al., 2013 for more information), which suggests that a considerable amount of variance between shaming/dehumanizing, punishing, and blaming remains unexplained and that these are distinct enough demonstrations of outragein response to norm violations. Yet, despite its moralistic implications (see Crockett, 2017), there is still little empirical work not only on the phenomenon of outrage fatigue but also on the role of motivated cognition on expressing outrage via blame. Social costs alter blame judgments, even when people’s cognitive resources are depleted (Monroe & Malle, 2019). But how do the inherent cognitive costs of blaming relate to people’s decisions towards moral outrage and blame? Here, we examined how felt cognitive costs associate with the choice to express outrage through blame.