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Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy
Showing posts with label Moral Outrage. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Moral Outrage. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Doing Good or Feeling Good? Justice Concerns Predict Online Shaming Via Deservingness and Schadenfreude

Barron, A., Woodyatt, L., et al. (2023).


Public shaming has moved from the village square and is now an established online phenomenon. The current paper explores whether online shaming is motivated by a person’s desire to do good (a justice motive); and/or, because it feels good (a hedonic motive), specifically, as a form of malicious pleasure at another’s misfortune (schadenfreude). We examine two key aspects of social media that may moderate these processes: anonymity (Study 1) and social norms (the responses of other users; Studies 2-3). Across three experiments (N = 225, 198, 202) participants were presented with a fabricated news article featuring an instance of Islamophobia and given the opportunity to respond. Participants’ concerns about social justice were not directly positively associated with online shaming and had few consistent indirect effects on shaming via moral outrage. Rather, justice concerns were primarily associated with shaming via participants’ perception that the offender was deserving of negative consequences, and their feelings of schadenfreude regarding these consequences. Anonymity did not moderate this process and there was mixed evidence for the qualifying effect of social norms. Overall, the current studies point to the hedonic motive in general and schadenfreude specifically as a key moral emotion associated with people’s shaming behaviour.


The results from three studies point to perceptions of deservingness and schadenfreude as important predictors of online shaming. Given the exploratory nature of the current work and the paucity of existing research on online shaming, many avenues exist for future research. Social psychology is well placed to understand both individual and group processes that may influence shaming behaviour – in particular, how certain features of the online environment and aspects of the transgressor may interact to influence the nature and severity of online shaming behaviour. As society continues to rely on social media to consume content and connect with others, we are hopeful that future research stimulates a more comprehensive understanding of the dynamics of online shaming and its consequences. 

Here are some additional key points from the article:
  • Online shaming is a form of social punishment that is increasingly common in the digital age.
  • There are two main motivations for online shaming: a desire to do good (a justice motive) and a desire to feel good (a hedonic motive).
  • The feeling of schadenfreude plays an important role in mediating the relationship between justice concerns and online shaming.

Monday, January 9, 2023

The Psychology of Online Political Hostility: A Comprehensive, Cross-National Test of the Mismatch Hypothesis

Bor, A., & Petersen, M. (2022).
American Political Science Review, 
116(1), 1-18.


Why are online discussions about politics more hostile than offline discussions? A popular answer argues that human psychology is tailored for face-to-face interaction and people’s behavior therefore changes for the worse in impersonal online discussions. We provide a theoretical formalization and empirical test of this explanation: the mismatch hypothesis. We argue that mismatches between human psychology and novel features of online environments could (a) change people’s behavior, (b) create adverse selection effects, and (c) bias people’s perceptions. Across eight studies, leveraging cross-national surveys and behavioral experiments (total N = 8,434), we test the mismatch hypothesis but only find evidence for limited selection effects. Instead, hostile political discussions are the result of status-driven individuals who are drawn to politics and are equally hostile both online and offline. Finally, we offer initial evidence that online discussions feel more hostile, in part, because the behavior of such individuals is more visible online than offline.

From Conclusions and General Discussion

In this manuscript, we documented that online political discussions seem more hostile than offline discussions and investigated the reasons why such hostility gap exists. In particular, we provided a comprehensive test of the mismatch hypothesis positing that the hostility gap reflects psychological changes induced by mismatches between the features of online environments and human psychology. Overall, however, we found little evidence that mismatch-induced processes underlie the hostility gap. We found that people are not more hostile online than offline; that hostile individuals do not preferentially select into online (vs. offline) political discussions; and that people do not over-perceive hostility in online messages. We did find some evidence for another selection effect: Non-hostile individuals select out from all, hostile as well as non-hostile, online political discussions. Thus, despite the use of study designs with high power, the present data do not support the claim that online environments produce radical psychological changes in people.

Our ambition with the present endeavor was to initiate research on online political hostility, as more and more political interactions occur online. To this end, we took a sweeping approach, built an overarching framework for understanding online political hostility and provided a range of initial tests. Our work highlights important fruitful avenues for future research. First, future studies should assess whether mismatches could propel hostility on specific environments, platforms or situations, even if these mismatches do not generate hostility in all online environments. Second, all our studies were conducted online and, hence, it is key for future research to assess the mismatch hypothesis using behavioral data from offline discussions. Contrasting online versus offline communications directly in a laboratory setting could yield important new insights on the similarities and differences between these environments. Third, there is mounting evidence that, at least in the USA, online discussions are sometimes hijacked by provocateurs such as employees of Russia’s infamous Internet Research Agency. While recent research implies that the amount of content generated by these actors is trivial compared to the volume of social media discussions (Bail et al. 2020), the activities of such actors may nonetheless contribute to instilling hostility online, even among people not predisposed to be hostile offline.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Morality, punishment, and revealing other people’s secrets.

Salerno, J. M., & Slepian, M. L. (2022).
Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 
122(4), 606–633. 


Nine studies represent the first investigation into when and why people reveal other people’s secrets. Although people keep their own immoral secrets to avoid being punished, we propose that people will be motivated to reveal others’ secrets to punish them for immoral acts. Experimental and correlational methods converge on the finding that people are more likely to reveal secrets that violate their own moral values. Participants were more willing to reveal immoral secrets as a form of punishment, and this was explained by feelings of moral outrage. Using hypothetical scenarios (Studies 1, 3–6), two controversial events in the news (hackers leaking citizens’ private information; Study 2a–2b), and participants’ behavioral choices to keep or reveal thousands of diverse secrets that they learned in their everyday lives (Studies 7–8), we present the first glimpse into when, how often, and one explanation for why people reveal others’ secrets. We found that theories of self-disclosure do not generalize to others’ secrets: Across diverse methodologies, including real decisions to reveal others’ secrets in everyday life, people reveal others’ secrets as punishment in response to moral outrage elicited from others’ secrets.

From the Discussion

Our data serve as a warning flag: one should be aware of a potential confidant’s views with regard to the morality of the behavior. Across 14 studies (Studies 1–8; Supplemental Studies S1–S5), we found that people are more likely to reveal other people’s secrets to the degree that they, personally, view the secret act as immoral. Emotional reactions to the immoral secrets explained this effect, such as moral outrage as well as anger and disgust, which were associated correlationally and experimentally with revealing the secret as a form of punishment. People were significantly more likely to reveal the same secret if the behavior was done intentionally (vs. unintentionally), if it had gone unpunished (vs. already punished by someone else), and in the context of a moral framing (vs. no moral framing). These experiments suggest a causal role for both the degree to which the secret behavior is immoral and the participants’ desire to see the behavior punished.  Additionally, we found that this psychological process did not generalize to non-secret information. Although people were more likely to reveal both secret and non-secret information when they perceived it to be more immoral, they did so for different reasons: as an appropriate punishment for the immoral secrets, and as interesting fodder for gossip for the immoral non-secrets.

Friday, March 4, 2022

Social media really is making us more morally outraged

Charlotte Hu
Popular Science
updated 13 AUG 21

Here is an excerpt:

The most interesting finding for the team was that some of the more politically moderate people tended to be the ones who are influenced by social feedback the most. “What we know about social media now is that a lot of the political content we see is actually produced by a minority of users—the more extreme users,” Brady says. 

One question that’s come out of this study is: what are the conditions under which moderate users either become more socially influenced to conform to a more extreme tone, as opposed to just get turned off by it and leave the platform, or don’t engage any more? “I think both of these potential directions are important because they both imply that the average tone of conversation on the platform will get increasingly extreme.”

Social media can exploit base human psychology

Moral outrage is a natural tendency. “It’s very deeply ingrained in humans, it happens online, offline, everyone, but there is a sense that the design of social media can amplify in certain contexts this natural tendency we have,” Brady says. But moral outrage is not always bad. It can have important functions, and therefore, “it’s not a clear-cut answer that we want to reduce moral outrage.”

“There’s a lot of data now that suggest that negative content does tend to draw in more engagement on the average than positive content,” says Brady. “That being said, there are lots of contexts where positive content does draw engagement. So it’s definitely not a universal law.” 

It’s likely that multiple factors are fueling this trend. People could be attracted to posts that are more popular or go viral on social media, and past studies have shown that we want to know what the gossip is and what people are doing wrong. But the more people engage with these types of posts, the more platforms push them to us. 

Jonathan Nagler, a co-director of NYU Center for Social Media and Politics, who was not involved in the study, says it’s not shocking that moral outrage gets rewarded and amplified on social media. 

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.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

How social learning amplifies moral outrage expression in online social networks

Brady, W. J., McLoughlin, K. L., et al.
(2021, January 19).


Moral outrage shapes fundamental aspects of human social life and is now widespread in online social networks. Here, we show how social learning processes amplify online moral outrage expressions over time. In two pre-registered observational studies of Twitter (7,331 users and 12.7 million total tweets) and two pre-registered behavioral experiments (N = 240), we find that positive social feedback for outrage expressions increases the likelihood of future outrage expressions, consistent with principles of reinforcement learning. We also find that outrage expressions are sensitive to expressive norms in users’ social networks, over and above users’ own preferences, suggesting that norm learning processes guide online outrage expressions. Moreover, expressive norms moderate social reinforcement of outrage: in ideologically extreme networks, where outrage expression is more common, users are less sensitive to social feedback when deciding whether to express outrage. Our findings highlight how platform design interacts with human learning mechanisms to impact moral discourse in digital public spaces.

From the Conclusion

At first blush, documenting the role of reinforcement learning in online outrage expressions may seem trivial. Of course, we should expect that a fundamental principle of human behavior, extensively observed in offline settings, will similarly describe behavior in online settings. However, reinforcement learning of moral behaviors online, combined with the design of social media platforms, may have especially important social implications. Social media newsfeed algorithms can directly impact how much social feedback a given post receives by determining how many other users are exposed to that post. Because we show here that social feedback impacts users’ outrage expressions over time, this suggests newsfeed algorithms can influence users’ moral behaviors by exploiting their natural tendencies for reinforcement learning.  In this way, reinforcement learning on social media differs from reinforcement learning in other environments because crucial inputs to the learning process are shaped by corporate interests. Even if platform designers do not intend to amplify moral outrage, design choices aimed at satisfying other goals --such as profit maximization via user engagement --can indirectly impact moral behavior because outrage-provoking content draws high engagement. Given that moral outrage plays a critical role in collective action and social change, our data suggest that platform designers have the ability to influence the success or failure of social and political movements, as well as informational campaigns designed to influence users’ moral and political attitudes. Future research is required to understand whether users are aware of this, and whether making such knowledge salient can impact their online behavior.

People are more likely to express online "moral outrage" if they have either been rewarded for it in the past or it's common in their own social network.  They are even willing to express far more moral outrage than they genuinely feel in order to fit in.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

The Dark Psychology of Social Networks

Jonathan Haidt and Tobias Rose-Stockwell
The Atlantic
Originally posted December 2019

Her are two excerpts:

Human beings evolved to gossip, preen, manipulate, and ostracize. We are easily lured into this new gladiatorial circus, even when we know that it can make us cruel and shallow. As the Yale psychologist Molly Crockett has argued, the normal forces that might stop us from joining an outrage mob—such as time to reflect and cool off, or feelings of empathy for a person being humiliated—are attenuated when we can’t see the person’s face, and when we are asked, many times a day, to take a side by publicly “liking” the condemnation.

In other words, social media turns many of our most politically engaged citizens into Madison’s nightmare: arsonists who compete to create the most inflammatory posts and images, which they can distribute across the country in an instant while their public sociometer displays how far their creations have traveled.


Twitter also made a key change in 2009, adding the “Retweet” button. Until then, users had to copy and paste older tweets into their status updates, a small obstacle that required a few seconds of thought and attention. The Retweet button essentially enabled the frictionless spread of content. A single click could pass someone else’s tweet on to all of your followers—and let you share in the credit for contagious content. In 2012, Facebook offered its own version of the retweet, the “Share” button, to its fastest-growing audience: smartphone users.

Chris Wetherell was one of the engineers who created the Retweet button for Twitter. He admitted to BuzzFeed earlier this year that he now regrets it. As Wetherell watched the first Twitter mobs use his new tool, he thought to himself: “We might have just handed a 4-year-old a loaded weapon.”

The coup de grâce came in 2012 and 2013, when Upworthy and other sites began to capitalize on this new feature set, pioneering the art of testing headlines across dozens of variations to find the version that generated the highest click-through rate. This was the beginning of “You won’t believe …” articles and their ilk, paired with images tested and selected to make us click impulsively. These articles were not usually intended to cause outrage (the founders of Upworthy were more interested in uplift). But the strategy’s success ensured the spread of headline testing, and with it emotional story-packaging, through new and old media alike; outrageous, morally freighted headlines proliferated in the following years.

The info is here.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Thinking Fast and Furious: Emotional Intensity and Opinion Polarization in Online Media

David Asker & Elias Dinas
Public Opinion Quarterly
Published: 09 September 2019


How do online media increase opinion polarization? The “echo chamber” thesis points to the role of selective exposure to homogeneous views and information. Critics of this view emphasize the potential of online media to expand the ideological spectrum that news consumers encounter. Embedded in this discussion is the assumption that online media affects public opinion via the range of information that it offers to users. We show that online media can induce opinion polarization even among users exposed to ideologically heterogeneous views, by heightening the emotional intensity of the content. Higher affective intensity provokes motivated reasoning, which in turn leads to opinion polarization. The results of an online experiment focusing on the comments section, a user-driven tool of communication whose effects on opinion formation remain poorly understood, show that participants randomly assigned to read an online news article with a user comments section subsequently express more extreme views on the topic of the article than a control group reading the same article without any comments. Consistent with expectations, this effect is driven by the emotional intensity of the comments, lending support to the idea that motivated reasoning is the mechanism behind this effect.

From the Discussion:

These results should not be taken as a challenge to the echo chamber argument, but rather as a complement to it. Selective exposure to desirable information and motivated rejection of undesirable information constitute separate mechanisms whereby online news audiences may develop more extreme views. Whereas there is already ample empirical evidence about the first mechanism, previous research on the second has been scant. Our contribution should thus be seen as an attempt to fill this gap.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Why Moral Emotions Go Viral Online

Ana P. Gantman, William J. Brady, & Jay Van Bavel
Scientific American
Originally posted August 20, 2019

Social media is changing the character of our political conversations. As many have pointed out, our attention is a scarce resource that politicians and journalists are constantly fighting to attract, and the online world has become a primary trigger of our moral outrage. These two ideas, it turns out, are fundamentally related. According to our forthcoming paper, words that appeal to one’s sense of right and wrong are particularly effective at capturing attention, which may help explain this new political reality.

It occurred to us that the way people scroll through their social media feeds is very similar to a classic method psychologists use to measure people’s ability to pay attention. When we mindlessly browse social media, we are rapidly presenting a stream of verbal stimuli to ourselves. Psychologists have been studying this issue in the lab for decades, displaying to subjects a rapid succession of words, one after another, in the blink of an eye. In the lab, people are asked to find a target word among a collection of other words. Once they find it, there’s a short window of time in which that word captures their attention. If there’s a second target word in that window, most people don’t even see it—almost as if they had blinked with their eyes open.

There is an exception: if the second target word is emotionally significant to the viewer, that person will see it. Some words are so important to us that they are able to capture our attention even when we are already paying attention to something else.

The info is here.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

We Need a Word for Destructive Group Outrage

Cass Sunstein
Originally posted May 23, 2019

Here are two excerpts:

In the most extreme and horrible situations, lapidation is based on a lie, a mistake or a misunderstanding. People are lapidated even though they did nothing wrong.

In less extreme cases, the transgression is real, and lapidators have a legitimate concern. Their cause is just. They are right to complain and to emphasize that people have been hurt or wronged.

Even so, they might lose a sense of proportion. Groups of people often react excessively to a mistake, an error in judgment, or an admittedly objectionable statement or action. Even if you have sympathy for Harvard’s decision with respect to Sullivan, or Cambridge’s decision with respect to Carl, it is hard to defend the sheer level of rage and vitriol directed at both men.

Lapidation entrepreneurs often have their own agendas. Intentionally or not, they may unleash something horrific – something like the Two Minutes Hate, memorably depicted in George Orwell’s “1984.”


What makes lapidation possible? A lot of the answer is provided by the process of “group polarization,” which means that when like-minded people speak with one another, they tend to go to extremes.

Suppose that people begin with the thought that Ronald Sullivan probably should not have agreed to represent Harvey Weinstein, or that Al Franken did something pretty bad. If so, their discussions will probably make them more unified and more confident about those beliefs, and ultimately more extreme.

A key reason involves the dynamics of outrage. Whenever some transgression has occurred, people want to appear at least as appalled as others in their social group. That can transform mere disapproval into lapidation.

The info is here.

Monday, August 27, 2018

It’s impossible to lead a totally ethical life—but it’s fun to try

Ephrat Livni
Originally posted July 15, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

“As much as we’d love to believe bad ethics come from bad people and good ethics come from the rest of us, our everyday choices such as cutting someone off on the freeway, fudging on our taxes, taking credit for something someone else did—these are all ethical choices,” he tells Quartz. We don’t think of our individual acts as having major implications, but those are the things we can control.

In his research, he’s found that people are outraged by ethical abstractions and don’t think a lot about simple things they might be doing wrong. “When people list unethical behavior, they often cite the illegal actions of corporations or the heinous decisions of politicians–these are strong examples of a growing disregard for ethics, but what’s missing on the list are the smaller and far more numerous everyday choices we make,” Gilbert says.

He suggests using ethics as philosophical and existential guardrails that guide us as we try to climb the rungs of the moral ladder. By extending the consideration we give our actions to an ever-wider group, we succeed in being more ethical, if not perfectly moral.

The information is here.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Is compassion fatigue inevitable in an age of 24-hour news?

Elisa Gabbert
The Guardian
Originally posted August 2, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Not long after compassion fatigue emerged as a concept in healthcare, a similar concept began to appear in media studies – the idea that overexposure to horrific images, from news reports in particular, could cause viewers to shut down emotionally, rejecting information instead of responding to it. In her 1999 book  Compassion Fatigue: How the Media Sell Disease, Famine, War and Death, the journalist and scholar Susan Moeller explored this idea at length. “It seems as if the media careen from one trauma to another, in a breathless tour of poverty, disease and death,” she wrote. “The troubles blur. Crises become one crisis.” The volume of bad news drives the public to “collapse into a compassion fatigue stupor”.

Susan Sontag grappled with similar questions in her short book Regarding the Pain of Others, published in 2003. By “regarding” she meant not just “with regard to”, but looking at: “Flooded with images of the sort that once used to shock and arouse indignation, we are losing our capacity to react. Compassion, stretched to its limits, is going numb. So runs the familiar diagnosis.” She implies that the idea was already tired: media overload dulls our sensitivity to suffering. Whose fault is that – ours or the media’s? And what are we supposed to do about it?

By Moeller’s account, compassion fatigue is a vicious cycle. When war and famine are constant, they become boring – we’ve seen it all before. The only way to break through your audience’s boredom is to make each disaster feel worse than the last. When it comes to world news, the events must be “more dramatic and violent” to compete with more local stories, as a 1995 study of international media coverage by the Pew Research Center in Washington found.

The information is here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Academic Mob and Its Fatal Toll

Brad Cran
Originally published March 2, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

In her essay “The Anatomy of an Academic Mobbing,” Joan Friedenberg states that “most mobbers see their actions as perfectly justified by the perceived depravity of their target, at least until they are asked to account for it with some degree of thoughtfulness, such as in a court deposition, by a journalist or in a judicial hearing.”

The flip side to the depravity of the target is the righteousness of the mob. What makes members of the mob so passionately inhumane is that their position as righteous becomes instantly wrapped up in the successful destruction of the target. As Friedenberg writes “An unsuccessful account leaves the mobber entirely morally culpable.”

Moral culpability creates fear and stokes irrational behavior, not within the target but within the mob itself. If a mob fails to cast out the target then eventually the mob will have to come to terms with the rights of the person they tried to destroy and the fact that all people, regardless of manufactured depravity, are deserving of humanity and basic fair treatment.

Every effort will be made to increase the allegation count, magnify the severity of each accusation, reinterpret any past actions of the target as malicious, and wipe away any sign that the target ever had a single redeemable quality that could point to the fact that they are undeserving of total destruction and shunning. For this reason “bullying” is a common accusation levelled against mobbing targets.

The article is here.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Our enemies are human: that’s why we want to kill them

Tage Rai, Piercarlo Valdesolo, and Jesse Graham
Originally posted December 13, 2017

Here are two excerpts:

What we found was that dehumanising victims predicts support for instrumental violence, but not for moral violence. For example, Americans who saw Iraqi civilians as less human were more likely to support drone strikes in Iraq. In this case, no one wants to kill innocent civilians, but if they die as collateral damage in the pursuit of killing ISIS terrorists, dehumanising them eases our guilt. In contrast, seeing ISIS terrorists as less human predicted nothing about support for drone strikes against them. This is because people want to hurt and kill terrorists. Without their humanity, how could terrorists be guilty, and how could they feel the pain that they deserve?


Many people believe that it is only a breakdown in our moral sensibilities that causes violence. To reduce violence, according to this argument, we need only restore our sense of morality by generating empathy toward victims. If we could just see them as fellow human beings, then we would do them no harm. Yet our research suggests that this is untrue. In cases of moral violence, our experiments suggest that it is the engagement of our moral sense, not its disengagement, that often causes aggression. When Myanmar security forces plant landmines at the Bangladesh border in an attempt to kill the Rohingya minorities who are trying to escape the slaughter, the primary driver of their behaviour is not dehumanisation, but rather moral outrage toward an enemy conceptualised as evil, but also completely human.

The article is here.

Monday, October 16, 2017

No Child Left Alone: Moral Judgments about Parents Affect Estimates of Risk to Children

Thomas, A. J., Stanford, P. K., & Sarnecka, B. W. (2016).
Collabra, 2(1), 10.


In recent decades, Americans have adopted a parenting norm in which every child is expected to be under constant direct adult supervision. Parents who violate this norm by allowing their children to be alone, even for short periods of time, often face harsh criticism and even legal action. This is true despite the fact that children are much more likely to be hurt, for example, in car accidents. Why then do bystanders call 911 when they see children playing in parks, but not when they see children riding in cars? Here, we present results from six studies indicating that moral judgments play a role: The less morally acceptable a parent’s reason for leaving a child alone, the more danger people think the child is in. This suggests that people’s estimates of danger to unsupervised children are affected by an intuition that parents who leave their children alone have done something morally wrong.

Here is part of the discussion:

The most important conclusion we draw from this set of experiments is the following: People don’t only think that leaving children alone is dangerous and therefore immoral. They also think it is immoral and therefore dangerous. That is, people overestimate the actual danger to children who are left alone by their parents, in order to better support or justify their moral condemnation of parents who do so.

This brings us back to our opening question: How can we explain the recent hysteria about unsupervised children, often wildly out of proportion to the actual risks posed by the situation? Our findings suggest that once a moralized norm of ‘No child left alone’ was generated, people began to feel morally outraged by parents who violated that norm. The need (or opportunity) to better support or justify this outrage then elevated people’s estimates of the actual dangers faced by children. These elevated risk estimates, in turn, may have led to even stronger moral condemnation of parents and so on, in a self-reinforcing feedback loop.

The article is here.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Moral outrage in the digital age

Molly J. Crockett
Nature Human Behaviour (2017)
Originally posted September 18, 2017

Moral outrage is an ancient emotion that is now widespread on digital media and online social networks. How might these new technologies change the expression of moral outrage and its social consequences?

Moral outrage is a powerful emotion that motivates people to shame and punish wrongdoers. Moralistic punishment can be a force for good, increasing cooperation by holding bad actors accountable. But punishment also has a dark side — it can exacerbate social conflict by dehumanizing others and escalating into destructive feuds.

Moral outrage is at least as old as civilization itself, but civilization is rapidly changing in the face of new technologies. Worldwide, more than a billion people now spend at least an hour a day on social media, and moral outrage is all the rage online. In recent years, viral online shaming has cost companies millions, candidates elections, and individuals their careers overnight.

As digital media infiltrates our social lives, it is crucial that we understand how this technology might transform the expression of moral outrage and its social consequences. Here, I describe a simple psychological framework for tackling this question (Fig. 1). Moral outrage is triggered by stimuli that call attention to moral norm violations. These stimuli evoke a range of emotional and behavioural responses that vary in their costs and constraints. Finally, expressing outrage leads to a variety of personal and social outcomes. This framework reveals that digital media may exacerbate the expression of moral outrage by inflating its triggering stimuli, reducing some of its costs and amplifying many of its personal benefits.

The article is here.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Tom Price Flies Blind on Ethics

Bloomberg View
Originally published September 21, 2017

Under the lax ethical standards President Donald Trump brought to the White House, rampant conflicts of interest are treated with casual indifference. This disregard has sent a message to his entire administration that blurring lines -- between public and private, right and wrong -- will be not just tolerated but defended. At least one cabinet member appears to have taken the message to heart.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price took five chartered flights last week, including one to a conference at a resort in Maine. Two of the flights -- round-trip from Washington to Philadelphia -- probably cost about $25,000, or roughly $24,750 more than the cost of an Amtrak ticket, for a trip that would have taken roughly the same amount of time. Total costs for the five flights are estimated to be at least $60,000.

The department has yet to reveal how many times Price has flown by charter since being sworn into office. There would be no problem were he picking up the tab himself, as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos reportedly does. But cabinet secretaries -- other than for the Defense and State departments, who often ride in military planes -- typically fly commercial. Taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for charters except in emergency situations.

The article is here.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

When is a lie acceptable? Work and private life lying acceptance depends on its beneficiary

Katarzyna Cantarero, Piotr Szarota, E. Stamkou, M. Navas & A. del Carmen Dominguez Espinosa
The Journal of Social Psychology 
Pages 1-16 | Received 02 Jan 2017, Accepted 25 Apr 2017, Published online: 14 Aug 2017


In this article we show that when analyzing attitude towards lying in a cross-cultural setting, both the beneficiary of the lie (self vs other) and the context (private life vs. professional domain) should be considered. In a study conducted in Estonia, Ireland, Mexico, The Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and Sweden (N = 1345), in which participants evaluated stories presenting various types of lies, we found usefulness of relying on the dimensions. Results showed that in the joint sample the most acceptable were other-oriented lies concerning private life, then other-oriented lies in the professional domain, followed by egoistic lies in the professional domain; and the least acceptance was shown for egoistic lies regarding one’s private life. We found a negative correlation between acceptance of a behavior and the evaluation of its deceitfulness.

Here is an excerpt:

Research shows differences in reactions to moral transgressions depending on the culture of the respondent as culture influences our moral judgments (e.g., Gold, Colman, & Pulford, 2014; Graham, Meindl, Beall, Johnson, & Zhang, 2016). For example, when analyzing transgressions of community (e.g., hearing children talking with their teacher the same way as they do towards their peers) Indian participants showed more moral outrage than British participants (Laham, Chopra, Lalljee, & Parkinson, 2010). Importantly, one of the main reasons why we can observe cross-cultural differences in reactions to moral transgressions is that culture influences our perception of whether an act itself constitutes a moral transgression at all (Haidt, 2001; Haidt & Joseph, 2004; Shweder, Mahapatra, & Miller, 1987; Shweder, Much, Mahapatra, & Park, 1997). Haidt, Koller and Dias (1993) showed that Brazilian participants would perceive some acts of victimless yet offensive actions more negatively than did Americans. The authors argue that for American students some of the acts that were being evaluated (e.g., using an old flag of ones’ country to clean the bathroom) fall outside the moral domain and are only a matter of social convention, whereas Brazilians would perceive them as morally wrong.

The paper is here.

Friday, March 24, 2017

A cleansing fire: Moral outrage alleviates guilt and buffers threats to one’s moral identity

Rothschild, Z.K. & Keefer, L.A.
Motiv Emot (2017). doi:10.1007/s11031-017-9601-2


Why do people express moral outrage? While this sentiment often stems from a perceived violation of some moral principle, we test the counter-intuitive possibility that moral outrage at third-party transgressions is sometimes a means of reducing guilt over one’s own moral failings and restoring a moral identity. We tested this guilt-driven account of outrage in five studies examining outrage at corporate labor exploitation and environmental destruction. Study 1 showed that personal guilt uniquely predicted moral outrage at corporate harm-doing and support for retributive punishment. Ingroup (vs. outgroup) wrongdoing elicited outrage at corporations through increased guilt, while the opportunity to express outrage reduced guilt (Study 2) and restored perceived personal morality (Study 3). Study 4 tested whether effects were due merely to downward social comparison and Study 5 showed that guilt-driven outrage was attenuated by an affirmation of moral identity in an unrelated context.

The article is here.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Moral Grandstanding

Justin Tosi and Brandon Warmke
Philosophy and Public Affairs
First published June 2016

Kurt Baier wrote that “moral talk is often rather repugnant. Leveling moral accusations, expressing moral indignation, passing moral judgment, allotting the blame, administering moral reproof, justifying oneself, and, above all, moralizing—who can enjoy such talk?” (1965: 3). When public moral discourse is at its best, we think that these features (if they are present at all) are unobjectionable. But we also think that, to some degree, Baier is right: public moral discourse—that is, talk intended to bring some matter of moral significance to the public consciousness—sometimes fails to live up to its ideal. Public moral discourse can go wrong in many ways. One such way is a phenomenon we believe to be pervasive: moral grandstanding (hereafter: “grandstanding”). We begin by developing an account of grandstanding. We then show that our account, with support from some standard theses of social psychology, explains the characteristic ways that grandstanding is manifested in public moral discourse. We conclude by arguing that there are good reasons to think that moral grandstanding is typically morally bad and should be avoided.

The article is here.