Summary: People who display moral outrage were considered to be more trustworthy and benevolent, and therefore more likely to display other positive pro-social behaviors than their more controlled counterparts.

Source: University of Arkansas

Moral outrage is an attractive behavior, particularly to people seeking long-term relationships, according to a new paper by researchers including a University of Arkansas psychologist.

The work indicates that people who displayed moral outrage were considered more benevolent and trustworthy than a control person not displaying outrage, and therefore more likely to possess other prosocial behaviors that would benefit a long-term relationship. There was a catch, however: Researchers found that people had to take action to address the moral wrong in question and not just talk about it to be more attractive to the opposite sex.

“I’ve done previous work where I’ve looked at how prosocial behavior actually makes individuals be seen as better long-term prospects,” said Mitch Brown, psychology instructor and first author of the study published in the journal Emotion. “But I was interested in understanding how emotional displays could do the same thing, actually.”

Brown and his colleagues conducted four studies with a total of 870 participants designed to investigate how displays of moral outrage were perceived in the context of mating. Participants were asked to rate the attractiveness of fictional dating profiles of people of the same and opposite sexes.

They found that both sexes viewed moral outrage as desirable for a long-term mate, but women were much more attracted than men possibly due to the prosocial attitudes of trustworthiness and benevolence it conveyed that could be seen as more valuable to women. Image is in the public domain

The study focused on heterosexuals, and the same-sex questions were used to gauge perceptions of how moral outrage influenced perceptions of an individual as interest in mating.

“This latter test has important implications for identifying likely sources of intrasexual competition that could interfere with one’s own mating goals,” the researchers wrote.

They found that both sexes viewed moral outrage as desirable for a long-term mate, but women were much more attracted than men possibly due to the prosocial attitudes of trustworthiness and benevolence it conveyed that could be seen as more valuable to women.

“Women incur a substantially larger minimal cost in reproduction (e.g., nine-month gestation, lactation) compared with men (e.g., single instance of sperm provision), which necessitates employment of stringent mate selection criteria to offset these costs,” the authors wrote.

They also found that the expression of moral outrage alone did not increase attractiveness, possibly because outrage without action could heighten perceptions of undesirable traits such as neuroticism and disagreeableness.

About this social behavior research news

Source: University of Arkansas
Contact: Bob Whitby – University of Arkansas
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Closed access.
“Demonstrate values: Behavioral displays of moral outrage as a cue to long-term mate potential” by Mitch Brown et al. Emotion


Abstract

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Demonstrate values: Behavioral displays of moral outrage as a cue to long-term mate potential

Recent findings suggest that moral outrage signals trustworthiness to others, and such perceptions play a uniquely important role in identifying social opportunities. We conducted four studies (N = 870) investigating how displays of moral outrage are perceived in the specific context of mating.

Results indicated participants, particularly women, found prospective mates describing outrage-signaling activism to be more desirable for long-term mating (Study 1), and this perception of desirability was similarly inferred among same-sex raters (Study 2). We further replicated findings in Study 1, while additionally considering the basis of women’s attraction toward outraged behavior through candidate mediators (Studies 3). Although we found consistent evidence for the desirability of an ostensibly outraged target, Study 4 finally identified a boundary condition on the desirability of outrage, wherein mere expression of outrage (without activism) was insufficient to bolster attraction.

We frame results from complementary perspectives of trust signaling and sexual strategies theory.



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