What’s the Point of Moral Outrage?

Jillian Jordan, Paul Bloom, Moshe Hoffman and David Rand in the New York Times:

Our paper helps address an evolutionary mystery: Why would a selfless tendency like moral outrage result from the “selfish” process of evolution? One important piece of the answer is that expressing moral outrage actually does benefit you, in the long run, by improving your reputation.

In our paper, we present both a theoretical model and empirical experiments. The model involves “costly signaling,” the classic example of which is the peacock’s tail. Only healthy male peacocks with high-quality genes can manage to produce extravagant plumages, so these tails — precisely because of how “resource intensive” they are — function as honest advertisements to potential mates of a peacock’s genetic quality.

We argue that the same can be true of punishing others for wrongdoing, which can serve as a signal of trustworthiness. This is because punishing others is often costly — but less so for those people who find it worthwhile to be trustworthy. Consider: Trustworthiness pays off for you if others typically reciprocate your good deeds or reward you for good behavior. This includes being rewarded for promoting moral behavior via punishment.

Continue reading: What’s the Point of Moral Outrage? – The New York Times.

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