Date of Award
Master of Arts
Moral outrage is an emotional, cognitive, and behavioral response to moral violations, resulting in a desire to punish the transgressor. Previous research has examined moral outrage toward transgressive behaviors, but no studies have examined the potential for moral outrage to be roused by another’s beliefs alone. Do people experience moral outrage at one another’s thoughts? If so, how do they punish someone who has roused their outrage but has “done nothing wrong”? In Study 1 (n = 209), I examined moral outrage reactions at people’s unacceptable beliefs on three topics (pedophilia, sexual assault, fraud) by comparing moral outrage elicited by people holding an indefensible belief (e.g., “sexual assault is no big deal”) but doing absolutely nothing to express or further that belief, versus people acting on these beliefs to various degrees (e.g., talking about it on social media, or assaulting someone themselves). Results indicated that people can become morally outraged at outrageous beliefs alone, and to a similar degree as at actual outrageous behaviors. In Study 2 (n = 327), I investigated whether the pattern would generalize from extreme beliefs most people would find outrageous to ideologically divided issues. Specifically, I examined the consequences of experiencing moral outrage when the target’s beliefs violated participants’ own moral convictions about abortion rights. Study 2 also investigated how participants punished the transgressor in a workplace setting, which is consequential and relevant to the fraught current political climate. Participants read a hypothetical male co-worker’s controversial and outrageous Facebook post, rated their feelings of moral outrage at the co-worker, and finally indicated how likely they would be to punish the co-worker directly (e.g., confrontation), indirectly (e.g., exclusion), or by avoiding him. Transgressive beliefs not only elicited more moral outrage when compared to control conditions, but transgressive beliefs elicited moral outrage to a similar degree as transgressive behaviors. Further, moral outrage at both beliefs and actions encouraged people to be more punitive toward the transgressor in direct ways (as seen in previous research), but also in indirect ways (such as social exclusion) or just by avoiding the transgressor. Finally, across both studies, I also found that participants’ intellectual humility (i.e., the degree to which a person recognizes that their beliefs and attitudes might be incorrect) predicted the intensity of their moral outrage: the intellectually humble reported overall lower levels of moral outrage than the intellectually arrogant. Implications for these findings for workplace discrimination and the study of moral outrage are discussed.
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