Expressing your anger at a third party makes you feel less guilty about injustices in the world. PICTURE: Visual Hunt

Expressing your anger at a third party makes you feel less guilty about injustices in the world.

We may think getting mad about injustices in the world shows how selfless we are. But a new study claims it's just the opposite - it showcases our self-serving nature. Psychologists say that professing concern - what social scientists refer to as moral outrage is often a tool we use to alleviate our feeling that we have a personal role in societal harm. In other words, the act of writing an angry Facebook status reinforces your sense that you're a good person.


The study showed a group of respondents a series of fabricated news articles either about labour exploitation in developing countries or climate change. For the climate change article, half of the participants read that Americans were the biggest drivers of man-made climate change, while the others read articles blaming the Chinese.

With the labour exploitation article, the participants were made to think about small ways they might be contributing to labour trafficking, child labour, and poor working conditions in sweatshops. They then learned about poor conditions in Apple product factories and the company's failure to stop this.

After reading, the researchers gave participants short surveys to gauge their levels of personal guilt, collective guilt, third party anger, a desire to see someone punished, and their own moral standing.


Lead authors and psychology professors Dr Zachary Rothschild, from Bowdoin College and Dr Lucas Keefer, from the University of Southern Mississippi, found a cycle of guilt-to-outrage-to-moral reaffirmation and broke down their findings as such:

1. Feeling guilty makes you angrier:
The participants who read that Americans were the biggest drivers of climates change had much more outrage at the destruction caused by 'multinational oil corporations' than those who read that the Chinese were to blame.

2. When you feel guilty, you want to punish third parties:
In one case, respondents who read about labour exploitation rated how much they thought they contributed to the situation and then rated their level of anger at 'international corporations'. Results found that those who felt guiltier over their role wanted to punish companies that perpetuate the exploitative system more.

3. Expressing outrage makes you feel less guilty:
When not given the opportunity to express their anger, the participants who read that Americans were to blame for climate change had much more guilt than those who read the blame-China article.

But when they expressed their outrage, the blame-America group had significantly lower levels of guilt than the China group. Respondents who read that Chinese consumers were to blame had similar guilt levels, regardless of whether or not they had the opportunity to express moral outrage.

4. We feel more moral when we vent:
When the participants were asked to rate their moral character after reading the blame-America article, most saw themselves as having 'significantly lower personal moral character' than those who read the blame-China article.

But that was only when they were not given an avenue to express third-party blame.
When they were asked to rate the level of blame at these corporations, as well as their own personal anger, the blame-America group had similar levels of moral pride as the blame-China group.

'The opportunity to express moral outrage at corporate harm-doing (vs. not) led to significantly higher personal moral character ratings,' the authors wrote.

5. We feel less angry after expressing moral outrage:
With the labour exploitation article, all participants were asked questions to assess their levels of 'collective guilt', or 'feelings of guilt for the harm caused by one's own group', about the situation.

The researchers found that those with high collective-guilt levels had less moral outrage after asserting their 'goodness'. But those who didn't have the chance to assert their goodness had more moral outrage at third parties.

© Daily Mail