Will moral outrage stand up?: Distinguishing among emotional reactions to a moral violation



Moral outrage—anger at violation of a moral standard—is claimed to be a prevalent and powerful moral emotion. However, evidence for moral outrage has been compromised by failure to distinguish it from personal anger—anger at harm to self—felt by victims of a moral violation. Although it does not seem possible to distinguish these two forms of anger by measurement, it is possible to do so by experimental manipulation of their distinct eliciting conditions. Extending previous research, the current study manipulated how a victim (self vs. stranger) was excluded (fairly vs. unfairly) from a favorable experience. Reported anger and behavioral retribution provided evidence of personal anger and revenge, not of moral outrage. These findings suggest that the prevalence and power of moral outrage has been exaggerated. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.