Doing good or feeling good? Justice concerns predict online shaming via deservingness and schadenfreude

Anna C. Barron, Lydia Woodyatt, Emma F. Thomas, Jia En Katherine Loh, Katherine Dunning

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Public shaming has moved from the village square and is now an established online phenomenon. The current paper explores whether online shaming is motivated by a person's desire to do good (a justice motive); and/or, because it feels good (a hedonic motive), specifically, as a form of pleasure at witnessing another's misfortune (schadenfreude). We examine two key aspects of social media that may moderate these processes: anonymity (Study 1) and social norms (the responses of other users; Studies 2–3). Across three experiments (N = 225, 198, 202) participants were presented with a fabricated news article featuring an instance of Islamophobia and given the opportunity to respond. Participants' concerns about social justice were not directly positively associated with online shaming and had few consistent indirect effects on shaming via moral outrage. Rather, justice concerns were primarily associated with shaming via participants' perception that the offender was deserving of negative consequences, and their feelings of schadenfreude regarding these consequences. Anonymity did not moderate this process and there was mixed evidence for the qualifying effect of social norms. Overall, the current studies point to the hedonic motive in general and schadenfreude specifically as a key moral emotion associated with people's shaming behaviour.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100317
Number of pages15
JournalComputers in Human Behavior Reports
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2023


  • Deservingness
  • Moral outrage
  • Online shaming
  • Schadenfreude
  • Social justice


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