Friday, July 10, 2015

The Biochemistry of Righteous Indignation


We have a national epidemic going on.  No, it usually doesn't kill people; it just has the potential to put them in abject slavery. It's called righteous indignation.  Hey, this stance is as American as cherry pie; and less caloric.  Therefore, it's something else to feel righteous about.  The Puritans were definite promoters of righteous indignation with their view of things; but possibly the Native Americans had their own stimuli for righteous indignation.

Some examples of things that cause people to mount on their elevated equines are the persistence of Confederate flags, the team names of certain teams (like the Washington Rednecks), gay marriages, cheerleader costumes, the quality of television, what girls wear on the beach, and why we don't have nice things like a good domestic beer.  

A psychologist should ask what's the reinforcement for this behavior?  On a biochemical level, the brain uses reinforcement learning which is mediated by dopamine,  Increasing the frequency of certain behaviors and decreasing the frequency of others through increasing the availability of dopamine in the synapses of brain circuits and results in a good feeling overall.  In short, they get a momentary lift out of being indignant.  For some pleasure-denying people, it's sort like an exercise-induced orgasm.

This is more or less what takes place when people use drugs to elevate moods.  The drug  hijacks and "rewires" the brain to increase the likelihood and frequency of emotional states and behaviors leading up to taking the drug. The result is an increased willingness to take the drug.

In general, any personality trait that becomes stable over time for an individual is a trait that is reinforced, for whatever reason, by the brain's reward systems.  In a sense, some peoples' brains become hooked on being righteously indignant!

Righteous indignation certainly has the ability to provide a cheap thrill by being easily rewarding. For a short time, the righteously indignant person experiences a state of heightened emotional intensity which comes from a feeling of moral superiority over others.  They get to be one up on an alleged perpetrator, possibly with a condescending lecture on the perpetrator's wicked ways. It provides them with an occasion to enjoy their fantasy of being much better and more moral than others. And that is a fantasy without any shame or embarrassment blow back, like having a secret fantasy of having a fantasy of hot monkey sex with three extraordinarily attractive guys. 

My suggestion is that you look at righteous indignation in a practical way: All God's children need their reinforcements.  It's not usually dangerous, it makes them feel good, it poses no threats to health, and it morally flails the unrighteous.  

As for those that are their targets, they might also get their dopamine release from the delicious sense of feeling more wicked then they really are.  Think of this, in some cases, as a win-win all around.  We have a festival down in New Orleans where good Catholic girls can feel deliciously wicked by flashing their boobs on Mardi Gras day and the bluenoses can also feel so morally superior!

Dopamine molecule

11 comments:

Gorilla Bananas said...

Monkey sex isn't actually that hot - primates with long tails mate quickly and nervously. But you're right about the exercise-induced orgasm - I would say it's practically equivalent to righteous indignation when the exercise involves a woman sitting on a man's face!

Linda Kay said...

I'm thinking the previous comment sort of got out of range. I just got off the phone with my daughter who is in the "program" after some years of alcohol abuse. She has now two friends who are struggling with some sort of either relapse or recognition of troubles with drugs. Not sure what else to add on this Angel, but thanks for the reminder of our own righteous indignation. Have a special weekend!

TexWisGirl said...

feeling wicked for a while can be freeing, but after being judged repeatedly, that luster wears off.

Big Sky Heidi said...

I wish the self-righteous could get take a chill pill, or a dopamine pill, and let the rest of us alone.

/Got my stars and bars!

Mike said...

"...more moral than others..."
This is definitely a fantasy.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

I always thought of boob-flashing on Mardi Gras to be a win, but that makes it more so.

allenwoodhaven said...

"mount on their elevated equines" is brilliant! I really enjoy your writing for style and substance.

As for this topic, I've long thought that the world would be a far better place with one simple, yet apparently complicated thing: tolerance.

Cloudia said...

Angel this is true, genius, and would make an amazing zine article...or even premise for a book! You could make a nice career teaching folks about this...






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Cherdo said...

I just wish that freedoms existed in our country. Meh.

Bilbo said...

I think there's just way too much dope in dopamine. And I agree with allenwoodhaven about the elevated equines!

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