You feel indignation when someone crosses the line of what you think is morally right or acceptable1. For example, if you see a car driver speeding in a residential area, when you read a tabloid article about the adultery of a celebrity, or when you find out that company managers have fired many employees while increasing their own bonus. In each of these cases, you witness other people doing something that is harmful, disrespectful, or unfair to others.
Unlike other anger-emotions, indignation can also be evoked by events that have nothing to do with you or anyone you know2. For instance, you may become indignant when you read in the paper that thousands of people in another country were injured in a chemical spill by a negligent company, even if you don’t know anyone involved.
Researchers identified five themes that are relevant in moral judgment: Harm (e.g., you see someone hitting a child), fairness (e.g., you see someone being ripped off in a store), in-group loyalty (e.g., you hear a colleague speak badly about your company to people from outside), respect for authority (e.g., you find out students regularly degrade and make fun of a teacher), and purity (e.g., you learn that someone has slept with a great number of people) 3. How people prioritize these values – which violation evokes indignation most quickly and intensely – depends on their personal worldview and political inclination.
Because the person experiencing it is often not directly involved in the matter, indignation often gives people the urge to tell others about the wrongdoing. By letting more people know, they hope – at least implicitly – that the news will reach people that can do something about it (e.g., politicians), or that it can mobilize enough people to reach a critical mass (e.g., forming an activist group).
In the comic, Murphy passes the copy room where a colleague is stocking up on an unusual amount of print supplies. It is clear that this colleague is getting them for his own use, and that he does not feel the slightest bit of remorse over this.