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Are you making social media toxic? Take the Moral Grandstanding test

A new set of studies published in the scientific journal PloS One has concluded that the caustic and confrontational nature of social media can be partly explained by people using the medium for ‘moral grandstanding’ in order to boost their status in social groups and spheres of belonging.

The studies, run by an academic team including the psychologist and noted expert in narcissism Professor, W. Keith Campbell, found that moral grandstanding is associated with status-seeking personality traits (narcissism, extraversion) and greater political and moral conflict in daily life.

Moral grandstanding is the use of public moral discourse (e.g. moral outrage in social media) for self-promotion and status attainment. It is a form of what is often derogatorily called ‘virtue signalling‘ (conspicuous expression of moral values) and is driven by a desire to impress others in order to acquire prestige or dominance within a community or sphere of belonging. In plain English, it’s about taking a visible stand for what you care about in order to impress people you care about.

To explore the idea that moral grandstanding can help explain toxic social media discourse, the researchers developed and tested a 10-question Moral Grandstanding Motivations Scale (MGMS) with 6798 online adult US participants. The MGMS scale is based on two key status-seeking motivations;

  • Prestige: Seeking status and influence via gaining the respect and admiration of others
  • Dominance: Seeking social status and influence by means of dominating, controlling, or subduing opponents

So are you a moral grandstander? And if so, do you adopt a dominance strategy or a prestige strategy? Take the 10 question test to find out.

The Moral Grandstanding Motivations Scale.

The following items refer to your political OR moral beliefs. Take a moment to think about your strongest held moral OR political beliefs (it can be both or just one).

Think about the issues that are most important to you and the things that you are most passionate about. After thinking about these things, please answer the following questions

On a scale of 1-7, to what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements (1 = disagree strongly, 7 agree strongly)

  1. I hope that my beliefs cause other people to want to share those beliefs.
  2. I am particularly good at sharing my beliefs.
  3. My beliefs should be inspiring to others.
  4. I often share my beliefs in the hope of inspiring people to be more passionate about their beliefs.
  5. When I share my beliefs, I do so to show people who disagree with me that I am better than them.
  6. I share my beliefs to make people who disagree with me feel bad.
  7. When I share my beliefs, I do so to shame people who do not share those beliefs.
  8. When I share my beliefs, I do so in the hope that people different than me will feel ashamed of their beliefs.
  9. I want to be on the right side of history about moral/political issues.
  10. Even if expressing my views does not help anyone, it is important that I share them.

Prestige Strivings = Average of items 1-4, 9 & 10 – (study average 4)
Dominance Strivings = Average of items 5-8 – (study average 2.5)

Full scale and initial norms can be downloaded here

Grubbs, J. B., Warmke, B., Tosi, J., James, A. S., & Campbell, W. K. (2019). Moral grandstanding in public discourse: Status-seeking motives as a potential explanatory mechanism in predicting conflictPloS one14(10).

Written by
Dr Paul Marsden
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Digital wellbeing covers the latest scientific research on the impact of digital technology on human wellbeing. Curated by psychologist Dr. Paul Marsden (@marsattacks). Sponsored by WPP agency SYZYGY.