Graphic Violence as Moral Motivator: The Effects of Graphically Violent Content in News

Matthew Grizzard, Jialing Huang, Julia K. Weiss, Eric Robert Novotny, Kaitlin S. Fitzgerald, Changhyun Ahn, Zed Ngoh, Alexandra Plante, Haoran Chu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Common wisdom holds that graphic media violence leads to antisocial outcomes. This common wisdom is reflected in the Society for Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. However, theory and research regarding moral emotions’ ability to increase moral sensitivity suggests that this type of negative content may be capable of yielding prosocial responses. This article describes this logic and tests its predictions in two experimental studies utilizing news footage of a mass execution conducted by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Results corroborate claims that graphic media violence can serve as a moral motivator. Higher levels of graphic violence led to stronger anger and disgust responses, which in turn predicted higher levels of (a) moral sensitivity, (b) desires for anti-ISIS interventions (including military and humanitarian efforts), and (c) eudaimonic motivations (i.e., seeking meaning in life). Important to note, no increases in negative attitudes toward Arab Muslims were observed. Theoretical implications are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)763-783
Number of pages21
JournalMass Communication and Society
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2 2017


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