Monday, September 19, 2022

Overperception of Moral Outrage in Online Social Networks Inflates Beliefs About Hostility

Brady, William J., Killian L. McLoughlin, Mark Torres, Kara Luo, Maria Gendron, and Molly Crockett. 2022. “Overperception of Moral Outrage in Online Social Networks Inflates Beliefs About Intergroup Hostility.” OSF Preprints. September 19. doi:10.31219/

Abstract: As individuals and political leaders increasingly interact in online social networks, it is important to understand how the affordances of social media shape social knowledge of morality and politics. Here, we propose that social media users overperceive levels of moral outrage felt by individuals and groups, inflating beliefs about intergroup hostility. Utilizing a Twitter field survey, we measured authors’ moral outrage in real time and compared authors’ reports to observers’ judgments of the authors’ moral outrage. We find that observers systematically overperceive moral outrage in authors, inferring more intense moral outrage experiences from messages than the authors of those messages actually reported. This effect was stronger in participants who spent more time on social media to learn about politics. Pre-registered confirmatory behavioral experiments found that overperception of individuals’ moral outrage causes overperception of collective moral outrage and inflates beliefs about hostile communication norms, group affective polarization and ideological extremity. Together, these results highlight how individual-level overperceptions of online moral outrage produce collective overperceptions that have the potential to warp our social knowledge of moral and political attitudes.