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Paper claims outrage does not deserve its bad reputation

09 November 2018

Outrage is absolutely everywhere. Today’s world, particularly the version of it blasted into our brains by social media, offers endless fodder. From big, simmering outrages (climate change and many powerful institutions’ refusal to do anything about it) to smaller quotidian ones. Every day, someone, somewhere does something offensive that comes to Twitter’s attention, leading to a gleeful pile on.

In part because of rising awareness of the adverse consequences of unfettered digital-age outrage, ite has become a particularly potent dirty word in recent years. Outrage, the thinking goes, is an overly emotional response to a confusing world, and drives people to nasty excesses, from simple online shaming to death threats or actual violence.

But a new paper argues that the concept of outrage has got too bad a rap and that its upsides, especially as a motivator of collective action and costly helping, have been overlooked.

The psychologists Victoria Spring, Daryl Cameron and Mina Cikara detail important questions about outrage that have yet to be answered, and they highlight how certain findings – especially from the “intergroup relations” literature, in contrast to the mostly negative findings from moral psychology – suggest it can serve a useful purpose.

Read more in a guest post by Jesse Singal on our Research Digest blog.

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