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For other uses, see Indignation (disambiguation).

Indignation is an emotion, and is considered to be a type of anger. Indignation is often composed of anger, disgust, contempt, and resentment. Simply, indignation can be defined as anger that is caused by something that is unfair or wrong.[1] In more detail, indignation is defined as, "a discrete social emotion specifying disapproval of a blameworthy action explicitly perceived as violating the objective order, and, implicitly perceived as injurious to the self-concept".[2] Indignation is an attribution-related emotion causing this emotion to be very personal to those experiencing it. Indignation has been described as the opposite emotion to respect [3] even though it has become synonymous with anger, whose opposite is gratitude, in the modern English usage.


The word indignation stems from the 12th century Old French word indignatio. This Old French word comes directly from the Latin word indignationem. In nominative form, indignationem is indignatio, meaning displeasure. Indignatio is a noun of action from the past participle stem of indignari. Indignari’s meaning is to regard as unworthy or to be angry or displeased at. Indignari comes from the word indignus, meaning unworthy. Opposite of the word dignus, meaning worthy.[4]


Indignation is perceived by many as a word that is exchangeable with anger. The two terms have been viewed as very similar because they are related. The main difference between indignation and anger is that indignation is a type of anger that stems from a very specific event-based cause. Indignation has not been researched that much by itself because it is so closely associated with anger. It has been stated that, “An extensive literature search has not produced a single coherent definition of indignation." [2] :17


Implicit attribution theory[edit]

The attribution process is integral in the development of indignation.It is the split second assessments a person makes (attributions)about their own behavior or in the behavior of others in order to figure out the reason or cause behind it. Behaviors can be classified as situational (external) or dispositional (internal).[5]Research shows that people tend to view behavior in one of two ways; the cause of situational factors or of dispositional factors.From this,an individual is either an Entity theorist or an Incremental theorist when considering event or categorization but is not exclusive to either group.”People’s implicit theories create a framework for processing information, forming inferences, determining attributions, shaping predictions, understanding others’ behaviors, and construction representations of social events”.[2]:14[6]:69–90 Taking this into account and based on a persons classification of entity or incremental theorist (which delineates how a person views behavior in relation to its driving factors),research demonstrates that said person is inclined to experience indignation with more or less frequency and severity respectively.[2]

Entity theory[edit]

Entity Theorists believe that judgements of moral character can be made from merely a few or even a single observation(s). They are most often found making stereotypes about people or events, and believe that disposition based attributions are innate, and rarely ever change. ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ explains how entity theorists might explain a situation. Behavior, to them is caused by the unchanging, internal (character) attributes.[6] Hypothetically, if the two different types of people were sitting on a parole board for a jailed criminal, those who exemplify traits of entity theorists might say ‘once a criminal always a criminal’ and reason that the criminal behavior was driven by the immoral nature of the person and they would do it again, no matter the circumstance, when given the opportunity.

Incremental theory[edit]

Incremental theorists believe just the opposite position of entity theorists. They make judgements of moral character more based on changing external factors (situational) and factors such as effort, desire and goals.[2]:18 When formulating judgements, incremental theorists, take relevant evidence into account and avoid broad character attributions.For example, those of whom are considered to be incremental theorists might argue that, the aforementioned criminal’s behavior was the subsequent result of a poor upbringing or was drug induced, and while in prison, the incarcerated changed his/her lifestyle through exemplary behavior and service to others. Thus, they would not be a threat to the public anymore.

Defensive Attribution Theory[edit]

Defensive Attribution Theory aims at describing how an individual ultimately wants to explain behavior in a way that protects their ego and is flattering to the self.[7]:213–235 Attributions are deemed as biased because an individual, in explaining behavior, will "take credit for good outcomes and avoid responsibility for the bad".[2]:25 In this, a person is trying to exert a varying degree of control over their environment.

Actor-Observer Effect[edit]

The Actor-Observer Effect is when an individual ascribes personal successes as the cause of factors concerning disposition (I, the student, did well on the test because I studied hard) and personal failures as the cause of situational factors (I, the student, did poorly on the test because the test questions were very difficult). The opposite is true of when an individual is assessing the behavior of others. When the actor views an observer (other person) succeeding, they will believe that the success was the result of situational factors. The classmate did well on the test because the questions were easy. If the actor sees the observer experience failure, the actor will say that it was because of something, usually negative, that deals with the observer's disposition.[5]:245–287 The classmate did poorly because he/she is lazy and did not study.


Indignation has been applied in many different settings.

In politics[edit]

Indignation has a large role in politics. This is because politicians hold the power to offend many people based the decisions that they make. The decisions that politicians make impact hundreds, thousands, or millions of people. Certain decisions they make may cause many constituents to feel indignant because they feel like those decisions go against what they stand for or believe in, especially if the constituents belong to the same party as the politician. Politicians themselves also feel indignant because if people are not in favor of their policies or are competing against them, they will attack their self-construct. For example, this can be seen when politicians are debating. The other politician typically questions their policies and procedures in hopes to make their competition feel indignant. By doing this, the hope would be that the debate would be stifled.

It has been stated that indignation provides the capacity to think through certain situations (Bromell, 2013, p. 290).[8]:290 The person feeling indignant wants to think about why they are feeling indignant so that they can figure out an appropriate response and pin-point whatever caused them to feel indignant. It has been stated that “when indignation does not express itself immediately as violence, it becomes an investigation of (and what he believes is a more appropriate response to) whatever has caused it” [8]:290

In religion[edit]

Main article: Righteous indignation

Righteous indignation is typically a reactive emotion of anger over perceived mistreatment, insult, or malice. It is akin to what is called the sense of injustice. In some Christian doctrines, righteous indignation is considered the only form of anger which is not sinful, e.g., when Jesus drove the money lenders out of the temple. (Gospel of Matthew 21).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1] November 1, 2013
  2. ^ a b c d e f Miller C.H., ["Indignation, defensive attribution and implicit theories of moral character"] Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences of Engineering, March 2001
  3. ^ Ortney, A., Clore, G.L., & Collins, A.,["The Cognitive Structure of Emotion'] Cambridge University Press,(1988.)
  4. ^ [], November 1, 2013
  5. ^ a b Zuckerman, M., ["Attribution of success and failure revisited, or: The motivational biases alive and well in attribution theory"] Journal of Personality, 47, 1979
  6. ^ a b Dweck, C.S., ["Implicit theories as organizers of goals and behavior"]The psychology of action: Linking cognition and motivation to behavior. New York:Guilford, 1996
  7. ^ Miller, D.T., & Ross, M., ["Self-Serving Biases in the Attribution of Causality: Fact or Fiction?"] Psychological Bulletin, 82 ,2, 1975
  8. ^ a b Bromell, N., ["Demographic indignation: black american thought and the politics of dignity"], Political Theory, 2013