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Why and when does outrage grow? This essay, based on the 2018 LSE Behavioural Public Policy Lecture delivered in February 2018, explores two potential answers. The first points to a revision or weakening of social norms, which leads people to express outrage that they had previously suppressed. The second points to a revision or weakening of social norms, which leads people to express outrage that they had not previously felt (and may or may not now feel). The intensity of outrage is often a product of what is most salient. It is also a product of ‘normalization’; people compare apparently outrageous behavior to behavior falling into the same category in which it is observed, and do not compare it to other cases, which leads to predictable incoherence in judgments. These points bear on the #MeToo movement of 2017 and 2018 and the rise and fall (and rise again, and fall again) of discrimination on the basis of sex and race (and also religion and ethnicity).
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