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What’s the Point of Moral Outrage?

Jillian Jordan, Paul Bloom, Moshe Hoffman, and David Rand: Why do we get so mad, even when the offense in question does not concern us directly? The answer seems obvious: We denounce wrongdoers because we value fairness and justice, because we want the world to be a better place. Our indignation appears selfless in nature. And it often is — at least on a conscious level. But in a paper published in the journal Nature, we present evidence that the roots of this outrage are, in part, self-serving. We suggest that expressing moral outrage can serve as a form of personal advertisement: People who invest time and effort in condemning those who behave badly are trusted more. Our paper helps address an evolutionary mystery: Why would a selfless tendency like moral outrage result from the “selfish” process of evolution? One important piece of the answer is that expressing moral outrage actually does benefit you, in the long run, by improving your reputation.

 

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