Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Moral outrage is an emotional, cognitive, and behavioral response to moral violations, resulting in a desire to punish the transgressor. Previous literature on moral outrage was limited in its examination of cognitive components and in the consideration of potential sources of moral outrage beyond transgressive behaviors. Through two studies, I addressed (a) cognitions and judgements integral to moral outrage, and (b) how different sources of moral outrage impacted overall moral outrage, as well as its cognitive, emotional, and behavioral components. In Study 1, I examined a literature-derived list of 42 cognitions and judgements about the transgressor in response to a morally outrageous news story. Using EFA and SEM models, I narrowed down and supported four subscales of potential cognitions related to moral outrage: judgements that the transgressor was Villainous, Intentional, Uncaring, and Harmful. Each subscale was internally consistent, though only Villainous and Intentional subscales were found to be uniquely and consistently predictive of moral outrage. In Study 2, I manipulated the moral outrage source in several scenarios presented as fictional news article about a YouTube star and his involvement with a disturbing viral video, following a 4 (moral outrage source: action, belief, affiliation, control) X 3 (topic: physical assault, zoophilia, stealing tips) design. Results showed a complex relationship between the moral outrage source and the strength of moral outrage, as well as each of its components. Interaction effects of source x topic also impacted multiple variables, where the pattern between each source condition differed depending on which vignette topic the participant had read. Broadly speaking, there were mixed results as to whether moral outrage toward a transgressive belief was equally strong as that toward a transgressive action (as seen in my previous research), or somewhat weaker. There was also novel support for the presence of a moderate level of moral outrage toward a person for their affiliation to a transgressive entity, even if the person had no personal transgressive actions or beliefs. The patterns of emotions, cognitions, and behavioral reactions varied slightly from overall moral outrage in unique ways that encourage future study. This research has implications for political polarization, cancel culture, and recognizing the cognitive component of moral outrage, a construct thus far defined primarily through its emotional components.
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