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Screaming Into The Void: How Outrage Is Hijacking Our Culture, And Our Minds

Researchers say our modern culture of outrage draws on deep evolutionary roots.
Jan Stromme
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Getty Images

Social media changed after the 2016 presidential election.

"I felt myself getting sucked into feedback loops where I would read something, I would feel outraged about it, [and] I would feel compelled to share it with my friends," says Yale psychologist Molly Crockett. "I would then be sort of obsessively checking to see whether people had responded, how they had responded, you know, lather, rinse, repeat."

Molly remembers feeling outraged in early 2017 by the anti-immigration stance of the Trump administration. She saw a friend post a pro-immigration article. After reading it, Molly decided to share it.

"A lot of my friends 'liked' it, and then I got a comment from someone that I didn't even really know that well. They said that the date of this article is 2011."

The article was six years old. In other words, it was published during the administration of President Barack Obama — someone Molly admired.

Molly quietly deleted the post. But the incident was a wake-up call.

"It was like coming out of a trance," she recalls.

This week on Hidden Brain, we explore how the satisfactions of outrage affect our politics, our communities, and our minds.

Additional Resources:

"Moral outrage in the digital age," by Molly Crockett, 2017.

"The Value of Vengeance and the Demand for Deterrence," by Molly Crocket, Yagiz Özdemir, and Ernst Fehr, 2014.

"Attentional capture helps explain why moral and emotional content go viral," by William Brady, Ana Gantman & Jay Van Bavel, 2019.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Shankar Vedantam is the host and creator of Hidden Brain. The Hidden Brain podcast receives more than three million downloads per week. The Hidden Brain radio show is distributed by NPR and featured on nearly 400 public radio stations around the United States.
Parth Shah is an associate producer at Hidden Brain. He came to NPR in 2016 as a Kroc Fellow.
Tara Boyle is the supervising producer of NPR's Hidden Brain. In this role, Boyle oversees the production of both the Hidden Brain radio show and podcast, providing editorial guidance and support to host Shankar Vedantam and the shows' producers. Boyle also coordinates Shankar's Hidden Brain segments on Morning Edition and other NPR shows, and oversees collaborations with partners both internal and external to NPR. Previously, Boyle spent a decade at WAMU, the NPR station in Washington, D.C. She has reported for The Boston Globe, and began her career in public radio at WBUR in Boston.
Rhaina Cohen is a producer and editor for NPR's Enterprise Storytelling unit, working across Embedded, Invisibilia, and Rough Translation.