Nav: Home

Bad people are disgusting, bad actions are angering

December 15, 2016

A person's character, more so than their actions, determines whether we find immoral acts to be 'disgusting,' according to new research in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

"We wanted to know why moral transgressions can be disgusting even when they don't involve the kinds of things that typically disgust us, like body products, insects, and rotting foods," says psychological scientist and study co-author Hanah Chapman of Brooklyn College, the City University of New York. "We found that what drives moral disgust seems to be the character of the transgressor -- who they are more so than what they do."

The worse someone's character is, says Chapman, the more disgusting people typically find them to be.

The research was prompted by differing findings regarding how our judgments of moral violations evoke specific emotional responses: anger and disgust.

Anger and disgust are often felt together when we think about someone else's wrongdoing, but the emotion that predominates can shape how we act. Previous work by first author Roger Giner-Sorolla of the University of Kent had shown that violating taboos is likely to elicit disgust, while violating people's rights tends to elicit anger. But work by Chapman and others had shown that people sometimes report disgust more so than anger in response to acts that violate a person's rights.

Giner-Sorolla and Chapman decided to collaborate and test the idea that focusing on a person's bad character might be what leads us to feel of disgust in response to harm and other rights violations.

In an online study, 87 American adults read and evaluated two scenarios. In one scenario, a man finds out that his long-term girlfriend has cheated on him and he beats her. In the other scenario, a man finds out that his long-term girlfriend has cheated on him and he beats the girlfriend's cat.

The participants evaluated the nature of the act, rating which act was more immoral, which act should be punished more severely, and which act deserves more blame. They also evaluated the nature of the two men, responding to questions gauging which man was more likely to be sadistic and which man was more likely to be empathetic.

Using both photos of facial expressions and verbal descriptions, the participants rated their relative disgust and anger.

In regards to the act itself, people tended to judge the act of beating the cat as less morally wrong than beating the girlfriend. But they tended to judge the moral character of the man who beat the cat as worse than that of the man who beat his girlfriend.

And the emotion ratings indicated that such negative character evaluations were associated with greater disgust, but not greater anger.

In two additional studies, participants read a series of different moral scenarios that varied according to whether the main character wanted to hurt someone (a sign of bad character, regardless of the outcome) and whether someone was actually hurt. In line with the first study, when the main character wanted to hurt someone, participants reported feeling disgust more than anger, even when no actual harm was done. And when the character caused harm unintentionally, participants reported more anger than disgust.

Overall, the findings suggest that we tend to feel more disgust when we judge someone to be a "bad person," but we tend to feel more anger when we evaluate someone's "bad actions."

Despite these overall trends in the data, the researchers note that the findings were complex and warrant further investigation.

Ultimately, the research "can help us understand why we feel these emotions," says Giner-Sorolla. And it shows "that two scholars with opposing ideas can get together and work out a way to resolve them."
-end-
The hypotheses, method, and analysis plan for Study 1 were preregistered at the Open Science Framework and can be accessed at https://osf.io/ynvhz/. All materials have been made publicly available via the Open Science Framework and can be accessed at https://osf.io/ynvhz/ (Study 1) and https://osf.io/x7bfj/ (Studies 2 and 3). The complete Open Practices Disclosure for this article can be found at http://pss.sagepub.com/content/by/supplemental-data. This article has received the badge for Open Materials. More information about the Open Practices badges can be found at https://osf.io/tvyxz/wiki/1.%20View%20the%20Badges/ and http://pss.sagepub.com/content/25/1/3.full.

For more information about this study, please contact: Roger Giner-Sorolla at rsg@kent.ac.uk or Hanah Chapman at hanahchapman@gmail.com.

The article abstract is available online: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956797616673193

The APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology. For a copy of the article "Beyond Purity: Moral Disgust Toward Bad Character" and access to other Psychological Science research findings, please contact Anna Mikulak at 202-293-9300 or amikulak@psychologicalscience.org

Association for Psychological Science

Related Anger Articles:

Study finds that sleep restriction amplifies anger
Feeling angry these days? New research suggests that a good night of sleep may be just what you need.
Stress and anger may exacerbate heart failure
Mental stress and anger may have clinical implications for patients with heart failure according to a new report published in the Journal of Cardiac Failure.
Mindfulness training helps men manage anger
Before treatment, 85% of the men in the study beat, kicked or shook their girlfriend.
Global sentiments towards COVID-19 shifts from fear to anger
The fear that people developed at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak has given way to anger over the course of the pandemic, a study of global sentiments led by NTU Singapore has found.
In politics and pandemics, trolls use fear, anger to drive clicks
A new CU Boulder study shows that Facebook ads developed and shared by Russian trolls around the 2016 election were clicked on nine times more than typical social media ads.
Anger, anxiety, insomnia: Tweets from Twitter users could predict loneliness
A team of researchers determined what topics and themes could be used to detect loneliness on social media by analyzing accounts that explicitly tweeted about it.
Beta blockers can block the effects of stress and anger in patients prone to emotion-triggered atrial fibrillation
Individuals who are prone to emotion-triggered atrial fibrillation (AF) may benefit from taking beta blockers.
Anger more harmful to health of older adults than sadness
Anger may be more harmful to an older person's physical health than sadness, potentially increasing inflammation, which is associated with such chronic illnesses as heart disease, arthritis and cancer, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.
Study suggests that fear and anger had different effects on conservatives and liberals
The emotional underpinnings of political ideology motivated how the electorate sought and processed information about the 2016 presidential election and the major issue of climate change.
Lack of sleep intensifies anger, impairs adaptation to frustrating circumstances
Losing just a couple hours of sleep at night makes you angrier, especially in frustrating situations, according to new Iowa State University research.
More Anger News and Anger Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.