Overperception of moral outrage in online social networks inflates beliefs about intergroup hostility

William J. Brady, Killian L. McLoughlin, Mark P. Torres, Kara F. Luo, Maria Gendron, M. J. Crockett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


As individuals and political leaders increasingly interact in online social networks, it is important to understand the dynamics of emotion perception online. Here, we propose that social media users overperceive levels of moral outrage felt by individuals and groups, inflating beliefs about intergroup hostility. Using a Twitter field survey, we measured authors’ moral outrage in real time and compared authors’ reports to observers’ judgements 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. Preregistered confirmatory behavioural 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)917-927
Number of pages11
JournalNature Human Behaviour
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Social Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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