Disgust Anger, and Aggression: Further Tests of the Equivalence of Moral Emotions


People often report disgust toward moral violations. Some perspectives posit that this disgust is indistinct from anger. Here, we test an alternative perspective: that disgust corresponds with condemnation strategies that are less costly – but also less effective at deterrence – than those corresponding with anger. We tested three hypotheses concerning emotional responses to moral violations: (1) disgust is associated with lower-cost, indirectly aggressive motives (e.g., gossip and social exclusion), whereas anger is associated with higher-cost, directly aggressive motives (e.g., physical violence); (2) disgust is higher toward violations affecting others than it is toward violations affecting the self, and anger is higher toward violations affecting the self than it is toward violations affecting others; and (3) abilities to inflict costs on or withhold benefits from others (measured via physical strength and physical attractiveness, respectively) relate to anger, but not to disgust. These hypotheses were tested in a within-subjects study in which 233 participants came to the lab twice and reported their emotional responses and aggressive sentiments toward self-targeting and other-targeting moral violations. Participants’ upper body strength and physical attractiveness were also measured with a dynamometer and photograph ratings, respectively. The first two hypotheses were supported – disgust (but not anger) was related to indirect aggression whereas anger (but not disgust) was related to direct aggression, and disgust was higher toward other-targeting violations whereas anger was higher toward self-targeting violations. However, physical strength and physical attractiveness were unrelated to anger or disgust or to endorsements of direct or indirect aggression.