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Emotions and the Ethics of Consequence in Conservation Decisions: Lessons from Cecil the Lion

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Abstract

Though the conservation community has long premised its moral foundations on consequentialist thinking, and has embraced a dualistic worldview severing reason from emotion, the conservation community has erred by failing to address – or even acknowledge – the limitations of these fundamental tenets. This failure reemerged in 2015 when a wealthy hunter killed an African Lion named Cecil for a trophy, in turn prompting a debate within the conservation community about the appropriateness of killing Cecil. A number of conservationists 1) defended such instances of trophy hunting on the basis that money generated by trophy hunting can support conservation, and 2) ridiculed as irrational those who oppose such instances of killing in the name of conservation. We suggest this response by the conservation community represents common, but problematic, ethical reasoning. We offer a critique of both the ethical underpinning of such reasoning and the assumptions about the relationship between reason and emotion. We urge ethical and social psychological maturation on behalf of the conservation community. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved
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Title:
Emotions and the Ethics of Consequence in Conservation Decisions: Lessons from Cecil the
Lion
Authors:
MICHAEL PAUL NELSON (mpnelson@oregonstate.edu, 541-737-9221), Oregon State
University, Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, Corvallis, OR, 97331, USA
JEREMY T. BRUSKOTTER (bruskotter.9@osu.edu, 614-595-7036), The Ohio State University,
The School of Environment and Natural Resources, Columbus, OH, 43210, USA
JOHN A. VUCETICH (javuceti@mtu.edu, 906-487-1711), Michigan Technological University,
School of Forest Resources and Environmental Sciences, Houghton, MI, 49931, USA
GUILLAUME CHAPRON (gchapron@carnivoreconservation.org, +46-76-117-75-23), Grimsö
Wildlife Research Station, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SE - 73091
Riddarhyttan, Sweden
Running Title:
Emotions and Ethics in Conservation Decisions
Keywords:
Animal Welfare, Cecil the Lion, Conservation, Consequentialism, Emotions, Environmental
Ethics, Moral Dilemma, Trophy Hunting
Type of Article:
Policy Perspectives
Number of Words in Abstract:
163
Number of Words in Manuscript:
2240
Number of References:
36
Number of Figures and Tables:
0
Corresponding Author:
MICHAEL PAUL NELSON (mpnelson@oregonstate.edu, 541-737-9221), Oregon State
University, Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, Corvallis, OR, 97331, USA
This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
2
Abstract
Though the conservation community has long premised its moral foundations on
consequentialist thinking, and has embraced a dualistic worldview severing reason from
emotion, the conservation community has erred by failing to address or even
acknowledge the limitations of these fundamental tenets. This failure reemerged in 2015
when a wealthy hunter killed an African Lion named Cecil for a trophy, in turn prompting a
debate within the conservation community about the appropriateness of killing Cecil. A
number of conservationists 1) defended such instances of trophy hunting on the basis that
money generated by trophy hunting can support conservation, and 2) ridiculed as irrational
those who oppose such instances of killing in the name of conservation. We suggest this
response by the conservation community represents common, but problematic, ethical
reasoning. We offer a critique of both the ethical underpinning of such reasoning and the
assumptions about the relationship between reason and emotion. We urge ethical and
social psychological maturation on behalf of the conservation community.
Introduction
Aldo Leopold (1933) first described wildlife management as the art of making land
produce sustained annual crops of wild game for recreational use.” Though Leopold’s views
about conservation changed dramatically over his lifetime, we still largely follow the model
he described in 1933. That is, a dominant focus of wildlife management continues to be the
treatment of wildlife as “crops” to be cultivated and harvested for human use. Yet, in recent
years, people have begun to question whether that focus is legitimate: if, for example,
killing a cougar for a trophy is the same as harvesting a deer for food. Likewise, many
question the legitimacy of certain tools used in wildlife management, objecting to the pain
and suffering inflicted. These issues often spark intense debates where well-meaning
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3
disputants often conservationists themselves mishandle basic principles that are well
known in the scholarly fields of ethics. In this essay, we argue that discourse about the
appropriateness of killing in the name of conservation would be more constructive if
conservationists understood (a) some of the shortcomings and limitations of
consequentialism, a basic school of thought in the academic discipline of ethics, and (b) that
emotion is not easily or appropriately separated from reason in human judgment and
decision-making. We use the recent case of the killing of Cecil the lion by a trophy hunter to
illustrate.
Consequentialism
The 2015 killing of a high-profile African lion, named Cecil, by an American trophy
hunter rekindled the controversy regarding whether trophy hunting of endangered animals
is acceptable (Capecchi and Rogers 2015). This episode represents a much broader
controversy about the appropriateness of trophy hunting in the name of conservation.
Much of the discourse on this topic focuses on a key empirical question for conservation
(i.e., can trophy hunting benefit a species or population?) (Di Minin et al. 2015). But the
discourse also tends to skirt the broader ethical question sitting at the heart of the
controversy. This question, put simply, iswhat constitutes a good reason to kill an animal?
The Cecil episode also has direct policy implications because the US Fish and Wildlife
Service (USFWS), which recently listed African lions under the U.S. Endangered Species Act
(ESA), also created a special rule that allows for the importation of lion parts (normally
illegal under the ESA) obtained in legal trophy hunts from countries with “scientifically
based” harvest quotas (80 Fed. Reg. 80,016).
Those who support trophy hunting rely primarily on two, oft-repeated, premises: (a)
trophy hunting does not jeopardize the population and (b) trophy hunting can be useful,
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4
even necessary, for the species being hunted because it provides funding for their
conservation (e.g. Di Minin et al. 2015). In addition to a rich academic literature both
defending and challenging the empirical claim that trophy hunting benefits species and
populations (see, for example, Lindsey et al. 2007 and Treves 2009), this issue has broad
social interest as well. For example, an article published on National Geographic’s news site
noted, “Supporters say regulated hunts raise much-needed money for conservation and
help manage populations and contends, “…scientists can prove that the taking of select
individuals will not endanger the species (Howard 2015). Similarly, a piece published in the
New York Times, noted hunting advocates “argue that, if done responsibly, the selling of
expensive licenses to big-game hunters can help pay for efforts to protect endangered
species (Capecchi and Rogers 2015) and an article in The Conversation, authored by a pair
of academic scientists, lends further support, arguing that “conservation costs money” and
trophy hunting provides a means of funding conservation (Rust and Verissimo 2015).
Looking across the coverage, the message is clearthough trophy hunting is extremely
controversial, it is justified when it raises funding for conservation.
These arguments presuppose an ethical theory called “consequentialism”— which
posits that the consequences of one’s actions or a policy is the sole basis for judging
whether they are right are wrong (consequentialism is invoked, for example, by the well-
known aphorism, “the ends justify the means.). Consequentialist thinking is common in
conservation (see Gore et al. 2011). While the limitations of consequentialism are well
known to ethicists, these shortcomings are less known to the conservation community.
Below we consider three of the most pertinent shortcomings.
The first shortcoming is that in some cases the ends do not justify the means. Even if
we grant that trophy hunting does not jeopardize the population of conservation concern
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5
and that it brings in significant funds for conservation, we are still left with the question, is
the killing justified? This question cannot be dismissed simply by appealing to the beneficial
consequences of the killing. Indeed in many other human affairs we condemn actions or
policies even if beneficial ends are obtained. For example, trafficking humans is taken to be
a wrong way to treat humans even if doing so generates revenue that would be used for
philanthropic purposes. The revenue that could be generated is not sufficient to override
the wrong that is done when we condone human trafficking. The analogous questions need
to be asked of trophy hunting in the name of conservation.
A second shortcoming of consequentialism is its tendency to underappreciate the
importance of motivation when determining the rightness or wrongness of an action. The
importance of motivation in society is highlighted, for example, by the difference between
manslaughter and murder in those two cases, the moral culpability, the crime, and the
punishment are all very different, even though the consequence of both crimes is exactly
the same. Where trophy hunting is concerned, the motivations of the hunter are critical in
determining the appropriateness of her or his actions. In the case of Cecil, the hunter was
not motivated by the need for food or to protect himself, his family, his livestock, his pets,
or his livelihood. The motivation for killing Cecil was recreation for the purpose of acquiring
a trophy. The explosion of condemnation for this hunter’s actions is a testament to the fact
that many people do not believe trophy acquisition is an appropriate motivation to kill
(Decker et al. 2015).
The controversy about the appropriateness of trophy hunting for conservation will
likely persist until opponents are given good reason to believe that trophy hunting for
conservation does not fall victim to these concerns about motivation. The importance of this
concern is further indicated by controversies surrounding such practices as, for example,
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6
long-shot animal shooting (Petzal 2014), hunting that is tantamount to target practice (e.g.,
prairie dog shooting, Conniff 2013), and various wildlife killing contests (Bixby 2015).
Finally, consequentialist approaches demand that we accurately predict future
consequences of our actions and policies. The criticism here is blunt. Where the relationship
between humans and nature is concerned, we simply are not very good at predicting the
outcomes of our actions or policies (e.g., Holling and Meffe 1996). The concern applies to
this particular case because our ability to reliably manage a trophy hunt without harming
the population is far from certain (e.g., Packer et al. 2009, Whitman et al. 2004, Palazy et al.
2011).
Moreover, as a general principle, we tend to overestimate the benefits and
underestimate the costs of our actions, especially when we are the beneficiaries of the
action (Sagoff 2004, Weinstein 1980). This principle applies here insomuch as if one
identifies with the basic and well-justified principles of animal welfare, then one is liable to
underestimate the cost of harming a population and overestimating the cost of harming
individuals; whereas if one identifies with the basic and well-justified principles of
conservation, then one is liable to overestimate the cost of harming a population and
underestimating the cost of harming individuals.
Important antidotes to these shortcomings are reflected by the underlying principles
of other ethical frameworks, such as deontology (Alexander and Moore 2015) and virtue
theory (Hursthouse 2013). Indeed, judging whether the killing of endangered wildlife is
justified requires analysis both of the consequences for the population (or species) and the
individual organisms that are being killed, and the motivations and actions of the individual
doing the killing. We urge the conservation community to consider these other ethical
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7
perspectives when deciding whether it should condone the various instances of killing in the
name of conservation, including trophy hunting.
Emotion
In addition to a more sophisticated understanding of ethical perspectives (how we
should behave with respect to wildlife), conservationists could also benefit from a more
thorough understanding of psychological explanations of how people actually make
judgments and decisions, especially the role of emotions. Some conservation professionals
expressed support for Cecil’s killing, specifically, and trophy hunting, generally, while
chastising those opposed as irrational or emotional. For example, one article chided, “While
it is sad that we sometimes have to resort to killing animals for conservation, let’s not allow
emotions to overtake our arguments (Rust and Verissimo 2015). The notion that people
oppose lethal actions because their judgment is clouded by emotion is, in our experience,
common in conservation debates. Indeed, the idea that emotion is the opposite of, or
antithetical to, reason dates back at least as far as Plato (Gardiner et al. 1937). However,
research in psychology and neuroscience reveal flaws in this idea. This research indicates
our deliberations and decision-making utilize both effortful, cognitive processes as well as
quick, intuitive emotional processes (Greene et al. 2004, Kahneman 2011), and suggest that
emotion can actually improve decision-making (Clark et al. 2008). Indeed, research on
humans with damage to ventromedial prefrontal region of the brain (a region that assists
with processing emotions) indicates that individuals with such damage have difficulties
making a variety of judgments and decisions (Bechara et al. 2000, 2004). Thus, while it may
seem desirable to eschew emotion in decision-making, research suggests this may not be
possible, let alone desirable.
This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
8
Psychological research indicates that the emotion of anger is a perfectly normal and
healthy reaction to any of several kinds of perceived injustice (Batson et al. 2007, 2009). For
example, we expect people to react angrily when they themselves are hurt by someone
else’s actions. We expect and even encourage people to respond angrily when cared-for
others are harmed, whether a child, friend or even pet. Likewise, anger at a violation of a
moral principle (e.g., do unto others…), whether codified in law or scripture, is an
appropriate response in a society dependent upon complex rules for maintaining order.
Individuals who fail to respond with appropriate emotions (like empathy) when witnessing
injustice might be described as callous or anti-social. In fact, lack of empathy is associated
with narcissistic personality disorder (Ritter et al. 2011) and a variety of aggressive, anti-
social behaviors (Miller and Eisenberg 1988), while empathetic responses are associated
with a variety of helping behaviors, including pro-environmental behavior (Schultz 2000,
Berenguer 2007).
Certainly, emotional outrage is sometimes no more than irrational lunacy (just as
reason can at times turn into rationalization), and emotions can lead to less thoughtful,
systematic processing of information (Wilson 2008). But often, emotional outrage is a
reasonable (perhaps even ‘reasoned’) response to injustice and unfairness. Thus, although
the eruption of emotional outrage is sometimes grounds for dismissing those who are
outraged, it can also be a call for closer inspection for signs of injustice. (Note that we are in
no way defending some of the clearly unvirtuous behavior exhibited by some opponents of
to trophy hunting in this case, who called for violence against Cecil’s killer (see Capecchi and
Rogers 2015)).
Tools such as argument analysis (Nelson and Vucetich 2012) and conflict resolution
(Madden and McQuinn 2014) can be useful for elucidating circumstances when emotions
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9
are, or are not, an appropriate response to some form of injustice. Where emotional
responses appear inappropriate, decision-aiding tools that encourage thoughtful, systematic
review of information can also be used to counteract emotional biases (Wilson 2008). Such
methods can also prevent one from being overly-attentive to emotions (e.g., attentive to
the point of being inappropriately distracted from relevant facts or circumstances that merit
attention). In any case, if the root cause of an emotional response is injustice, then the
appropriate response is to address the injustice.
There is increasing evidence to suggest that the public is becoming more empathetic
toward wildlife (Manfredo et al. 2009), and people seem increasingly willing to question
conservation practices they view to be morally problematic. From a practical perspective,
dismissing stakeholders’ views in an emotionally-charged environment will almost certainly
decrease trust among parties (Wilson 2008), and could undermine support for conservation
initiatives. The key for conservation professionals is recognizing that emotion is not
anathema to rational decision-making.
Conclusion
The Cecil case highlights the under-appreciated importance of the human
dimensions of conservation, in particular those pertaining to ethics and psychology. Trophy
hunting as a means of conserving species is vigorously defended by some conservationists
who implicitly rely on consequentialist ethical arguments. More than a century of
scholarship in the field of ethics reveals flaws with consequentialism, calling into question
conservation actions that rely solely on consequentialist arguments. The idea that emotion
is the antithesis of rationality is also centuries old, and is employed as a means of dismissing
people who display emotion in conservation debates. Yet, psychological research suggests
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10
emotional reactions to injustice are normal and healthy, and emotions can be critical for
making ‘good’ judgments and decisions.
These new perspectives need not paralyze conservationists. As seen above, a variety
of practical tools are available for assisting conservationists in understanding the ethical
underpinnings of their positions, and for addressing the proper role of emotions in decision-
making.
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... Some analyses and interpretations are clouded by imprecisely defined terms (e.g., what a trophy is for different species and which metrics are used; Mitchell et al. 2021). Arguments are also clouded by strong emotional biases for or against trophy seeking (Nelson et al. 2016). ...
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‘Biosphere reserve’ is a United Nations (UN) designation stipulating that a region should attempt to follow the principles of sustainable development (SD). This paper adopts a stakeholder analysis framework to analyse the discourses of those tourism stakeholders who can actively affect SD in the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve (WBR), South Africa. Adopting an inductive qualitative methodology generated multiple research themes which were subsequently analysed using critical discourse analysis (CDA) techniques. These themes indicate that seeking SD in biosphere reserves is problematical when there are distinct ideological differences between active stakeholder groups and power relations are unequal. Adopting CDA allows us to make some sense of why this is the case as the technique appreciates not only how tourism development occurs, but also why it occurs in a particular way. This paper adds to the literature on stakeholder analysis in tourism specifically and also has wider implications for SD more generally.
... Researchers have suggested that emotions might account for some of the remaining variability (Allen et al., 1992;Jacobs et al., 2012;Jacobs & Vaske, 2019), but empirical research on emotions is relatively scarce in social science research pertaining to human-wildlife interactions (Doney et al., 2020;Sponarski et al., 2015). Understanding the roles of attitude and emotional concepts that influence support for wildlife management actions may provide insight for targeting outreach to support conservation (Batavia et al., 2021;Nelson et al., 2016). This article examined relationships between attitudes and emotions within the context of support for managing wolves in Illinois. ...
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Predictive models analyzing relationships among emotions, attitudes, behavioral intentions have inconsistently examined the implied logical flow of the concepts. This article examined two research questions. When general attitude and general emotional dispositions are predictors of support for specific wolf management actions: (a) should a direct effects, a partial mediation model, or a full mediation model be analyzed; and (b) should attitudes or emotions be the mediator? Data were obtained from a mail survey of Illinois residents (n = 2,634, response rate = 48%). Five structural equation models were examined. The partial mediation model with attitude as the mediator had the best fit, followed by the partial mediation model with emotion as the mediator. Both positive and negative emotions were more strongly related to support for wolf management than attitude. This may have occurred because a general attitude, as opposed to a specific attitude, was examined. This article examined behavioral intentions; future research should measure actual behaviors or reported behaviors.
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) Understanding Human–Canid Conflict and Coexistence: Socioeconomic Correlates Underlying Local Attitude and Support Toward the Endangered Dhole (Cuon alpinus) in Bhutan.
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Legal hunting of threatened species—and especially the recreational practice of “trophy hunting”—is controversial with ethical objections being increasingly voiced. Less public attention has been paid to how hunting (even of threatened species) can be useful as a conservation tool, and likely outcomes if this was stopped. As case studies, we examine the regulated legal hunting of two African rhino species in South Africa and Namibia over the last half‐century. Counter‐intuitively, removing a small number of specific males can enhance population demography and genetic diversity, encourage range expansion, and generate meaningful socioeconomic benefits to help fund effective conservation (facilitated by appropriate local institutional arrangements). Legal hunting of African rhinos has been sustainable, with very small proportions of populations hunted each year, and greater numbers of both species today in these countries than when controlled recreational hunting began. Terminating this management option and significant funding source could have negative consequences at a time when rhinos are being increasingly viewed as liabilities and revenue generation for wildlife areas is being significantly impacted by COVID‐19. Provided that there is appropriate governance, conservation of certain highly threatened species can be supported by cautiously selective and limited legal hunting.
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Public awareness of nature and environmental issues has grown in the last decades and zoos have successfully followed suit by re-branding themselves as key representatives for conservation. However, considering the fast rate of environmental degradation, in the near future, zoos may become the only place left for wildlife. Some scholars argue that we have entered a new epoch titled the “Anthropocene” that postulates the idea that untouched pristine nature is almost nowhere to be found.1 Many scientists and scholars argue that it is time that we embraced this environmental situation and anticipated the change. 2 Clearly, the impact of urbanization is reaching into the wild, so how can we design for animals in our artificializing world? Using the Manoa School method that argues that every future includes these four, generic, alternatives: growth, discipline, collapse, and transformation3, this dissertation explores possible future animal archetypes by considering multiple possibilities of post zoo design.
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Ferality, as a concept, may be a hopeful potential of thriving life in the Anthropocene; however, ferality remains problematically grounded in contested nature-culture binaries. Government programs continue to use ferality as a classification and valuation technology, and ultimately, as a mathematical solution to a political nightmare. By approaching trap-neuter-return (TNR) policies in Miami through a technopolitical framework, this paper critically examines technologies used to identify, measure, and value free-roaming urban animals through programs to make them either live or die for strategic political agendas. TNR programs homogenize entire populations of “feral” animals. Miami’s TNR of kittens demonstrates the need for policies that acknowledge heterogeneous free-roaming animal experiences. This case study unpacks the fleshly consequences of reducing complex nonhuman animal histories to abstract statistical performance metrics. Detailed analysis of this management technology illustrates links between public pressure, political interest, and the perceived need to manage human-nonhuman relations in dense urban spaces.
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International pressure to ban trophy hunting is increasing. However, we argue that trophy hunting can be an important conservation tool, provided it can be done in controlled manner to benefit biodiversity conservation and local people. Where political, and governance structures are adequate, trophy hunting can help address the ongoing loss of species.
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Unaddressed or poorly addressed conflicts present increasingly difficult obstacles to effective conservation and management of many wildlife species around the world. The material, visible manifestations of such conflicts are often rooted in less visible, more complex social conflicts between people and groups. Current efforts to incorporate stakeholder engagement typically do not fully acknowledge or address the social conflicts that lie beneath the surface of conservation issues, nor do they consistently create the necessary conditions for productive transformation of the root causes of conflict. Yet, the ultimate level of social carrying capacity for many species will depend on the extent to which conservation can reconcile these social conflicts, thereby increasing social receptivity to conservation goals. To this end, conservation conflict transformation (CCT) offers a new perspective on, and approach to, how conservationists identify, understand, prevent, and reconcile conflict. Principles and processes from the peacebuilding field inform CCT and offer useful guidance for revealing and addressing social conflicts to improve the effectiveness of conservation efforts. The Human-Wildlife Conflict Collaboration (HWCC) has adapted and demonstrated these principles for application in conservation through capacity building and conflict interventions, transforming how many practitioners in the conservation field address conflict. In this article, we discuss current limitations of practice when addressing conflict in conservation, define conflict transformation, illustrate two analytical models to orient the reader to the benefits of CCT, and present two case studies where CCT was applied usefully to a conservation-related conflict.
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Previous studies have pointed out the importance of empathy in improving attitudes toward stigmatized groups and toward the environment. In the present article, it is argued that environmental behaviors and attitudes can be improved using empathic perspective-taking for inducing empathy. Based on Batson’s Model of Altruism, it was predicted that higher levels of empathy would improve environmental attitudes and behaviors. It was also predicted that a causal model could be established between empathy and environmental attitudes and behaviors. A study using a factorial design (2 × 2) is reported on the relationship between empathy level (high or low), natural object viewed (bird or tree), and environmental attitudes and behaviors. The results of this study indicate that participants who showed a high empathy level displayed stronger environmental behaviors and attitudes. Additionally, a path analysis shows the moderating effects of evoking empathy for a natural object (bird or tree) on willingness to act in a way that protects the environment (attitudes and behaviors).
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Moral outrage—anger at violation of a moral standard—should be distinguished from anger at the harm caused by standard-violating behavior. Recent research that used experimental manipulation to disentangle these different forms of anger found evidence of personal and empathic anger, but not of moral outrage. We sought to extend this research by assessing anger at a more extreme moral violation: torture. If the person tortured is a member of one’s group (nationality), anger may not be over the moral violation but over the harm done to one of “us.” In an experiment designed to create the necessary appraisal conditions, we found clear evidence of identity-relevant personal anger (anger when a person from one’s nationality is tortured) but little evidence of moral outrage (anger even when a person from an identity-irrelevant nationality is tortured). Implications for understanding moral emotion and moral motivation are discussed.