Social Job Talk: Jillian Jordan, Northwestern University


Tuesday, November 12, 2019, 12:00pm to 1:15pm


105 William James Hall
Using the lens of reputation to understand outrage and punishment


People care deeply about their own reputations and the reputations of others. In this talk, I will argue that by considering these reputation concerns and the incentives underlying them, it is possible to better understand many important features of our social behavior, cognition, and emotions. In particular, I will focus on the human taste for outrage and punishment. I will begin the talk by showing that one reason people punish wrongdoers is to signal to others that they can be trusted not to commit wrongdoing themselves. I will support this claim with evidence that punishment is both perceived (by observers) and used (by punishers) as a costly signal of underlying trustworthiness. Furthermore, I will present evidence that even when nobody is watching, implicit signaling motives shape outrage and punishment. Next, I will show that reputation motives are so powerful that they even drive people to punish alleged wrongdoing in morally ambiguous contexts, in which people are privately unsure that punishment is merited (but nonetheless expect punishing to make them look good in the eyes of others). Finally, I will provide a brief overview of a new and related line of work investigating perceptions of victims. I will suggest that because people face reputational incentives to punish wrongdoers and help their victims, we tend to see victims of wrongdoing as morally virtuous. Together, this body of research highlights the power of a reputation framework to illuminate our appetite for outrage and punishment, and more generally to help explain a broad range of important social phenomena.