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What Does Your Level of Moral Outrage Tell Others About You?

Outraged by something on the internet? Yawn. You may be simply falling for a very old trick... and becoming a run-of-the-mill bully in the process.

Molly Crockett: Moral outrage is a very powerful emotion that motivates us to shame and punish people who have broken some social rule, who have harmed us or someone we care about in some way. And there are many benefits of moral outrage, but there are also many costs. 

So the benefits can fall into two broad categories. The first category of benefit is social benefits. So when we express outrage about some kind of wrongdoing, that teaches others that that kind of behavior is not going to be tolerated, and it can motivate other people to behave morally so that they can avoid getting shamed or punished for breaking the rules. 

The other kind of benefit that moral outrage brings out is personal. Moral outrage broadcasts to the rest of your social group that you are the kind of person who is not likely to break the rules. So these two benefits of expressing outrage have to be balanced against the costs of outrage. 

So expressing outrage carries some risks, particularly in the day to day world. If you approach a stranger on the street—let’s say for littering—there’s a chance they might retaliate against you. There’s a chance that they could physically aggress against you. We saw a really tragic case of the huge possible costs of expressing moral norms and trying to regulate bad behavior earlier this year in Portland when a couple of people, really brave people lost their lives for trying to rein in someone who was expressing racist comments on a commuter train in Portland.

So it can be risky to express outrage. It can be uncomfortable, stressful; telling somebody to their face that they’ve done something wrong is just awkward sometimes. So when we are expressing outrage we really have to weigh these costs against the benefits. And evolution has equipped us with a really fine-tuned calculus for making these kinds of decisions in interpersonal and face to face interactions. 

If moral outrage is a fire, the internet is like gasoline. So when we think about the costs, of benefits of expressing outrage, what social media does is it turns down all the costs and dials up the benefits. 

So expressing outrage on social media is way easier than expressing it offline. It’s less costly. You can do it with the click of a button. You can join a large crowd, so hiding amongst a lot of other people really takes down the riskiness of expressing outrage towards a person who has broken some norm. 

And, of course, it dials up the benefits. You’re getting social feedback, likes from your friends, retweets, shares. And the audience, of course, is so much bigger on social media than it is offline. So the reputational benefits of expressing outrage are massively bigger when you take it online. 

So moral outrage is really interesting because of its reputational benefits. And it can be contrasted with cyber bullying for example. Both are aggressive kinds of behaviors, but the one expresses that you are a morally good person, and the other has rather the opposite effect. 

So research on cyber bullying seems to suggest that anonymity that’s often found online increases cyber-bullying. 

There are fewer studies on this, but it seems like the opposite occurs in the case of moral outrage expression online. So there’s one recent study that looked at expressions of outrage in an online political forum in Germany. 

And in this study they looked at the effects—of being anonymous versus identified—on how aggressive the language was in these posts that had to do with social policies. And they actually found that people were expressing more outrage about these moral political issues when they were not anonymous. 

So that seems to contrast with what is typically seen for cyber bullying.

Outrage on the internet is very, very easy to find. It seems that everyday someone has done something that other people can't stand and have to say something about (pro tip: this happened before the internet, too, it's just that there's a bigger audience for it thanks to social media). People dog pile on top of the person or thing they're outraged about, get worked up about it, and move on. But what does this constant anger actually say about us? Never before in human history has it been so easy to have an anonymous avatar to hide behind, and it's created a backwards and heightened version of outrage that neuroscientist Molly Crockett finds extremely interesting.

A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

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Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
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Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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Vaccines find more success in development than any other kind of drug, but have been relatively neglected in recent decades.

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Vaccines are more likely to get through clinical trials than any other type of drug — but have been given relatively little pharmaceutical industry support during the last two decades, according to a new study by MIT scholars.

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