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J Pers Soc Psychol. 2011 Apr;100(4):719-37. doi: 10.1037/a0022408.

The moral emotions: a social-functionalist account of anger, disgust, and contempt.

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Department of Psychology, Stanford University, USA.


Recent research has highlighted the important role of emotion in moral judgment and decision making (Greene, Sommerville, Nystrom, Darley, & Cohen, 2001; Haidt, 2001). What is less clear is whether distinctions should be drawn among specific moral emotions. Although some have argued for differences among anger, disgust, and contempt (Rozin, Lowery, Imada, & Haidt, 1999), others have suggested that these terms may describe a single undifferentiated emotional response to morally offensive behavior (Nabi, 2002). In this article, we take a social-functionalist perspective, which makes the prediction that these emotions should be differentiable both in antecedent appraisals and in consequent actions and judgments. Studies 1-3 tested and found support for our predictions concerning distinctions among antecedent appraisals, including (a) a more general role for disgust than has been previously been described, (b) an effect of self-relevance on anger but not other emotions, and (c) a role for contempt in judging incompetent actions. Studies 4 and 5 tested and found support for our specific predictions concerning functional outcomes, providing evidence that these emotions are associated with different consequences. Taken together, these studies support a social-functionalist account of anger, disgust, and contempt and lay the foundation for future research on the negative interpersonal emotions.

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