Study: Moral Outrage Is Attractive Among Long-Term Relationship Seekers

Mitch Brown
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Mitch Brown

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – 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. 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 the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among fewer than 3% of colleges and universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the U of A among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.

Contacts

Mitch Brown, instructor, psychology
Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences
479-575-4256, mb103@uark.edu

Bob Whitby, science writer
University Relations
479-575-4737, whitby@uark.edu

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