Psychologists claim outrage is getting a bad rap

But a new paper argues that the concept of outrage has gotten too bad a rap and that its upsides, especially as a motivator of collective action and costly helping, have been overlooked. Writing in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, the psychologists Victoria Spring, Daryl Cameron and Mina Cikara detail important questions about outrage that have yet to be answered, and they highlight how certain findings – especially from the “intergroup relations” literature, in contrast to the mostly negative findings from moral psychology – suggest it can serve a useful purpose.

They cite two experiments, for example, in which “both naturally occurring outrage (about an ongoing conflict) and induced outrage (manipulated via video footage about the conflict) predict[ed] greater support for nonviolent peacemaking policies relative to ‘induced hope’ and ‘neutral’ emotion manipulations. Similarly, women who read that the majority of men harbour hostile sexist beliefs (versus benevolent sexist beliefs or gender-unrelated beliefs) exhibit[ed] increased anger and fury, which predict[ed] intentions to participate—and actual participation—in collective action for equal salaries. By contrast, reappraisal, aimed at reducing negative emotions such as outrage, reduce[d] participants’ reported intentions to engage in political action.”

That’s all fair enough. But arguing that researchers — or anyone else — focus too much on the downsides of outrage feels like an uphill battle to fight in 2018.