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What Increases Outrage?

The more outrage people feel, the more likely they are to perceive higher levels of risk. What tends to increase outrage? People are likely to feel more upset about things that trigger a higher degree of dread or uncertainty, are unfamiliar, or seem to be inflicted upon us by others.


Perceptions of risk are not just affected by how many people are hurt or how much property is damaged. An intentional attack against a relatively small group of people may evoke greater perceptions of risk than a natural, more familiar disease outbreak that affects an entire community.

“Low-outrage” events usually are familiar, naturally occurring, and affect people equally. An example of a low-outrage event is a pandemic influenza outbreak. “High-outrage” events tend to be perceived as caused by others, unknown, and affecting one group more than another. For example, an outbreak of food poisoning at a school caused by something the children ate at the cafeteria would likely be a high-outrage event.

The chart below describes various Outrage Factors and how they influence how much people will perceive risks.

Outrage Factor Lower Perceived Risks Higher Perceived Risks
Voluntariness voluntary imposed
Controllability under an individual's control controlled by others
Equity distributed fairly distributed unfairly
Natural vs. human origin natural human caused
Catastrophic potential random, scattered effects groupings of fatalities, injuries, or illness in one place or at one time
Familiarity familiar unknown, never before experienced, unfamiliar
Age of victims adults children
Understanding well-understood or self-explanatory poorly understood
Uncertainty relatively known to science relatively unknown or having highly uncertain dimensions
Dread does not arouse fear, terror, or anxiety evokes fear, terror, or anxiety
Reversibility reversible adverse effects potentially irreversible adverse effects
Personal stake poses no direct or personal threat places people directly and personally at risk
Ethical/moral nature not perceived as ethically objectionable or morally wrong perceived to be ethically objectionable or morally wrong
Victim identity produces statistical victims produces identifiable victims