Outrage towards whom? Threats to moral group status impede striving to improve via out-group-directed outrage


Correspondence to: Susanne Täuber, Department of Social Psychology, Grote Kruisstraat 2/1, 9712 TS Groningen, The Netherlands.

E-mail: S.Tauber@rug.nl


Threats to group status can elicit different responses, ranging from those that motivate striving for improvement to those that motivate defending the threatened social identity. We examine why moral threats to group status may inhibit individuals' striving to improve. Specifically, we predicted that a threat to the group's moral status evokes a defensive emotional focus on the out-group that impedes individuals' striving to improve. Two studies (N = 76 and N = 90) showed that moral (as opposed to nonmoral) threats elicited more outrage directed at the out-group and, by trend, less outrage directed at the in-group. The follow-up study further demonstrated that moral threat impeded striving for improvement because of the relative focus of outrage on in-group versus out-group. Moreover, and consistent with our group-based analysis, this pattern was most pronounced among strongly identified group members. We discuss theoretical and practical implications of framing groups' shortcomings in moral versus nonmoral terms. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.