Do you get “morally outraged” or just “angry”?

Anger at unfair treatment has been called moral outrage. However, moral outrage – anger at the violation of a moral standard – should be distinguished from personal anger at being harmed and empathic anger at seeing another for whom one cares harmed. Across a preliminary experiment and a main experiment, both designed to manipulate the appraisal conditions for these three forms of anger, we found evidence of personal anger and empathic anger, but little evidence of moral outrage. Participants perceived unfair treatment of another, even another for whom they had not been induced to feel empathy, to be as unfair as participants perceived unfair treatment of themselves. But the appraisal conditions that evoked anger were unfair treatment of self and unfair treatment of a cared-for other, not unfairness per se. In the absence of empathic concern, unfair treatment of another evoked little anger. Possible implications for understanding moral emotion and moral motivation are suggested.

Source: “Anger at unfairness: is it moral outrage?” from European Journal of Social Psychology

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