The Science of Online Outrage with Molly Crockett | Crooked Media
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July 09, 2021
With Friends Like These
The Science of Online Outrage with Molly Crockett

In This Episode

Yale psychologist Molly Crockett joins the show to talk about the latest research on online outrage and how it affects us all. Then on this week’s Adorables segment you’ll hear from Rutherford Falls star Jana Schmieding about the two cats who came into her life during the pandemic.





Ana Marie Cox: Hi, I’m Ana Marie Cox. Welcome to With Friends Like These. People yelled at each other online before Trump, but it took Trump for us to realize just how damaging online outrage can be, to individuals, to relationships, to journalism and to politics in general. But how damaging and in what exact way? There is a science to be applied to these questions. And that’s what Molly Crockett does. Molly is an assistant professor of psychology at Yale University and a distinguished research fellow at the Oxford Center for Neuroethics. She started looking into online outrage before Trump and in a way, her work predicted Trump. Her studies found that online outrage tends to stay inside the echo chamber of people who already agree. She found that positive feedback loop we’re now familiar with, where the echo chamber emboldens those who are in it. And it turns out, outrage isn’t a thing that can be expressed and let go of. It’s more like a drug. The more you get, the more you want it. And social media means you can get it 24/7. We talk about those findings and more with Yale psychologist Molly Crocket coming right up.


Ana Marie Cox: Molly, welcome to the show.


Molly Crockett: Thank you so much for having me.


Ana Marie Cox: So I want to get kind of a general overview of what you study now. To me, it looks like there’s a theme of moral outrage going throughout your work, is that it?


Molly Crockett: I mean, there is, there is a theme of moral outrage running throughout the world.


Ana Marie Cox: [laughs] When I say a theme of moral outrage running through your work, I don’t mean that you are outraged. You may be. [laughs]


Molly Crockett: I am, all the time, constantly. There is a running joke in psychology that we do research, we study that we have experience with in our life. Some of, my research program is broadly on moral psychology. I’m really fascinated by how human beings judge right from wrong, how we make moral decisions, how we conceive of ourselves as moral beings, how we apply these judgments maybe differentially to ourselves versus other people, to our group versus our outgroup, and how these processes might be changing over time, in particular with the advent of new technologies like social media. And of course, outrage has been a recent theme and this particular line of work started in the aftermath of the 2016 elections, although I guess you can trace the line back much further because my dissertation work was on the neurobiology of moralistic punishment. So I was really interested in how brain processes guide our decisions to punish other people who we think have treated us unfairly, for example. And that work identified the engagement of reward systems in the brain in decisions to punish others. And so that was the lens that I was looking at my own behavior and particularly my social media behavior after the 2016 election.


Ana Marie Cox: Well, that’s fascinating because I was going to ask you how you got interested in this. I honestly didn’t expect 2016 to be the answer. I’m especially interested that you were able to kind of see yourself, like look at your research and try to mirror, your experience. And let’s not gloss over what you apparently found out, which is that our brain rewards us for punishing other people?


Molly Crockett: Yeah, that’s right. I mean, this is not my own discovery. This is something that’s been—


Ana Marie Cox: But you went in—


Molly Crockett: —show multiple times in lots of different ways in the literature since at least the early 2000s, some of the first brain imaging studies of punishment were published. So my work was building on that. And the newer stuff is sort of taking some of those ideas and applying them to the context of social media interaction.


Ana Marie Cox: Can we talk a little bit about that basic idea, though, like there’s a pleasurable, it’s a pleasure response, a neurobiological pleasure response? Like what kinds of punishment induce that?


Molly Crockett: Well, I mean, I don’t—


Ana Marie Cox: It’s now like literally sadomasochism, right, like, it’s not . . . [laughs]


Molly Crockett: So I mean, you know, the idea that ‘revenge is sweet’ has been around for a long time. Right? So in many, in many cases, you know, this is a good example of we didn’t need a brain scan to tell us this. Right. I mean, I, you know, I trained in neuroscience and a lot of my research is neuroscience but let’s, let’s be clear that the that research is not necessarily telling us anything new about the psychology, but it is kind of reinforcing this really old idea that we’re really motivated to punish people who we see have transgressed moral norms. And what’s really remarkable about punishment in humans in particular is that we’re willing to go to great lengths and to incur personal costs, not just to punish people who’ve harmed us directly, but also to punish people who have transgressed more broadly, or even who have harmed total strangers halfway across the world that we’re never going to see or meet again. And I think there’s something really kind of beautiful about that, actually. I mean, the fact that we can feel anger and indignation on behalf of strangers, like that’s really amazing. And something that is not seen in our primate relatives to the extent that it is in humans. And there’s some debate as to whether chimpanzees or other non-human primates species will engage in punishment on behalf of others. But it’s clear that this behavior in humans is is far more extensive than any other species.


Ana Marie Cox: And what you just said is a good reminder to a bleeding heart like me that punishment isn’t necessarily bad. That when we are morally outraged and we want consequences—I always like that term better than punishment—we desire consequences on the behalf of society or the behalf of the injured party. That’s also sometimes known as justice.


Molly Crockett: Yes, absolutely. Although there’s some work that we’ve done in my lab that pinpoints how much of our punishment behavior is concerned with consequences—teaching a lesson—versus just making the other person suffer. Right. And this is, this is a line of work we’ve done, basically looking at the behavioral manifestation of these two types of punishment that have been identified in philosophy: retributive punishment, and sort of consequentialist punishment. And what we see in adults, as well as in children as young as four or five years old, that both motives are present. So people are willing to punish someone who behaves unfairly, even if that person will never even know that they’ve been punished. So there’s no way that they could learn a lesson or improve their behavior in the future. It’s the sort of lab experiment equivalent of like a waiter spitting in a customer’s food. There’s no norm enforcement happening with this kind of secret punishment. And we see that in adults and in children. But crucially, people are even more willing to punish when it can teach a lesson, both adults and children. So we do have this taste for punishment that’s going to do some good for the broader society.


Ana Marie Cox: So let’s go back to your interest in moral outrage and in your own use of social media and how that kind of got you to where what you’re studying today. What happened, did you see yourself engaging in behavior that you thought, oh, we should study this? Was it behavior you didn’t like?


Molly Crockett: I have a flashbulb memory—this is when I was still at Oxford. I was living in Jesus College in a little turret and I mean, just like many, many people, you know, the outcome of the election was devastating. I was also living in the UK at the time so this is coming on the heels of Brexit. And I hadn’t I had not been very political in my social media posting behavior up until that point, but after all of that happened, I sort of started sharing more articles and spending more time on social media. And I vividly remember one morning kind of waking up and making myself a tea, curling up on my couch with my phone in hand and just sort of scrolling through and the next thing I knew, it was almost noon and I had been sort of sucked in this feedback loop of expressing outrage, getting a lot of positive social feedback for that. The news feed is, of course, showing me more articles that it thinks I’m going to like and share. And I realized that I had just not been very intentional in the way that I was spending my time. And it felt like it was controlling me rather than the other way around. And because the lab I had done my PhD in and a lot of the work that I had been doing in the years prior had been around understanding the neuroscience and psychology of habit-based decision making, and how our behavior over time, if it gets reinforced, can come, can go from being very intentional and goal-directed, to being sort of knee-jerk, reflexive, habitual and not kind of consciously intended. And so I just had this sort of aha moment and thought, oh, I wonder if I’m just habitually sharing and expressing and this is actually something we might be able to study in the lab. And the implications are, I think, really important because we like to think of our moral discourse as something that is really, really central to our identities, the most important conversations that we can be having that will shape the future of democracy. And isn’t it really important if those conversations are coming from an intentional and conscious and goal-directed place? And would it be troubling if a large part of these interactions were actually behaviors shaped by the algorithms, which, by the way, are controlled by interests that are very powerful, that have a very particular agenda?


[ad breaks]


Ana Marie Cox: So you have a light bulb moment that has to do with your own behavior. And I think, yes, a legitimate concern. We want to believe that our morality is based in our intelligence or at least our spirit. Right. And not just something that is the mental equivalent of a funnybone.


Molly Crockett: So, yes, exactly.


Ana Marie Cox: So how did you begin to study that? What is, what is, what is the way that you look at that in a lab?


Molly Crockett: Well, the research really started to take off when I recruited a postdoc to my lab, Billy Brady, who had just finished his PhD and had done this wonderful work measuring the expression of moral emotions on Twitter. And he had discovered a way to measure these expressions. And he showed with this work that moral emotions in tweets make those tweets more likely to get shared online, or it’s a correlational study, so tweets containing more emotional language are more likely to get retweeted. And that was one piece of this broader equation, right, that we express outrage that’s more likely to get positive social feedback. And that then creates this feedback loop, which over time could shape our behavior. So Billy started in the lab a couple of years ago and we developed an entirely new set of methods for measuring moral outrage in tweets. And we’ve been using those tools to do a number of studies. You know, most of them are not published yet. I think you saw an early version of a pre-print that is sort of going through the pipeline right now. But we’ve been looking at a lot of questions with this method.


Ana Marie Cox: Well, when you bring up Twitter and moral outrage, part of what I wonder is where do you begin? Because Twitter runs on moral outrage and in not just political moral outrage. Right. People are upset because they’re waiting in line to long. I always feel it, because that’s also my response too these days if I’m upset about like an interaction in public. I’ll be like: ar ar ar, you know, this happened. Although I almost tweeted, sorry, Alice can you take this out but I just have to share—I found street parking on South of Congress today that almost tweeted about that and would have been a success story. Anyway, sp where do you begin? Because Twitter runs on moral outrage.


Molly Crockett: Yeah, so you know, that was, that was our impression when we started too. So so pop quiz: if you were to take a politically-charged topic, what percentage of all tweets on that topic would you say contain outrage? What’s your guess?


Ana Marie Cox: Oh. [laughs] Crucial question, are we counting tweets from news organizations?


Molly Crockett: Oh, yeah. All, tweets.


Ana Marie Cox: 70%?


Molly Crockett: So it’s way lower than that.


Ana Marie Cox: Oh, OK, good.


Molly Crockett: I can’t give you, I can’t give you a blanket number, but actually one thing that was really interesting when we started this work was our initial strategy was to just take hashtags on politically contentious topics like—


Ana Marie Cox: I noticed you have Brett Kavanagh’s one of your examples.


Molly Crockett: So that that was actually stage two. Stage one, we were just looking at general words and topics and pulling the tweets on those topics and then mining those tweets for outrage expressions. And that actually the overall levels of outrage expression were way lower than we expected, which meant that we had to change our strategy. And so we ended up moving towards more episodic strategy. So just staying attuned to the news and being on the lookout for very specific episodes with very specific actors and key words that we could do a more targeted data harvesting. And the cabinet hearings was one of those, turns out in the period from 2017-2020 when we were doing this research, there were lots of—I know this would come as a shock to you—but there is there is a time point, Twitter has, it’s very friendly for researchers actually. It has an API where you can log in and tweets from the past seven days, you can, you can download for free and beyond, seven days into the past you have to start paying for the data. And we didn’t have a huge budget for this research so, ah, our research technician, Killian McGlaughlin was basically on outrage watch constantly so that we had to Slack channel and we were sending messages and a new episode would pop up like: Killian, quick, get these tweets! And so we have we have a massive data set now.


Ana Marie Cox: So you find people arguing. And actually have a question, which is when you get into the specific episodic outrage, do you get a higher percentage of moral outrage expressed some tweets?


Molly Crockett: Yes. That, it really varies by by a data set. The number’s that sticking out in my head is 30%-ish. But that’s a very wide, wide margin of error on that.


Ana Marie Cox: My first question about that is I think a lot of people would overestimate the number of tweets that are about that have moral outrage to them. And the fact that it’s such a lower percentage than you might expect, is that sort of proof of your study?


Molly Crockett: Because, and this leads to a broader point and maybe we can circle back to it whenever it makes sense, like our estimate of what other people think and feel is coming from our news feeds. And those news feeds are not at all representative of all the things people are saying online. They are a curated set of communications that is curated based on what Twitter or Facebook or whichever platform your on’s algorithm thinks is going to grab your attention and going to make you stay on the platform longer. And so this has really worrying implications for our ability to just understand and know what people both in our own group, but also on the other side believe and the like, it boggles the mind to start thinking about the broader implications of that.


Ana Marie Cox: You know, one thing leaps to mind immediately, which is something that I usually wind up reminding myself, not a daily basis, but a lot, which is that Twitter is not real life. That when I take breaks from social media, I’m a little surprised every time about how rarely politics enters my life. And, you know, I have friends who are civilians. [laughs] Although I will say that’s another that’s an interesting thing about the Trump era is I did start to notice that people who normally didn’t talk to me about politics would start to talk to me about politics. But you know why? They weren’t interested in marginal tax rates. They wanted to know what I thought about the latest outrage. So what are these worrying implications, though? So, so, is the concern I mean, I guess it must be that we start to believe that our social media is real life? I mean, because isn’t it real life if we think it’s real life? I don’t know.


Molly Crockett: Well, yeah, I mean, where do you draw the line there? I mean, it’s a really interesting question. And I mean, to some extent, Twitter creates real life in that a lot, if not most journalists are on Twitter and deciding what to write about based on those interactions. So even members of the public who are not on Twitter are consuming news articles that are written by people who are immersed in that world and you know, it comes it comes down to narrative, right? Like what are the stories that are shaping our understanding of the increasingly complex world we live in? And those stories are going to have heroes and they’re going to have villains. And the people who decide who the villains and the heroes are are going to have a big impact on real life. So a question that arises is who gets to create those stories? And this is an idea that then is enriched by one of my favorite books from the past couple of years, Rebecca Solnit’s, Whose Story is this? Right. And she highlights how power shapes who gets to tell these stories. And I mean, I think this is, this is one of, one of the upsides of social media is that it does expose us to a wider variety of stories and voices. But the question also then becomes, circling back to outrage, you know, who is allowed to express outrage, whose outrage gets amplified, whose outrage gets pushed back. And this is something we’re looking at now.


Ana Marie Cox: Al right. So I’m going to take a wild guess at who gets to express outrage online and who gets pushback. I’m guessing white men . . . are probably—


Molly Crockett: Ding, ding, ding, ding.


Ana Marie Cox: What do I win? So is it really just that it’s, it’s just borne out by the data. It’s not just our experience that shows this?


Molly Crockett: Well, I mean, there’s, there is existing social psychological research about backlash for expressing anger. And as you as you predict, women, people of color, are more likely to get backlash for expressing anger. There is not there’s not a lot of data on that specific question in the social media context, but that’s something that we are researching right now. And there is, of course, unfortunately, ample data that people of color, women, sexual minorities, are more likely to face hate speech and harassment online and be driven out of these spaces, which then raises the question of like: OK, well, if we have a digital public square and if politics is being shaped by discussions online, if you don’t feel safe to participate in those conversations because you’re worried you’re going to get trolled or doxxed or whatever, then like those discourses are not going to be representative of everyone.


Ana Marie Cox: A friend of mine, Anil Dash, has done interesting work on how this reward mechanism in social media is an artifact of the of how it was designed by white men. That if a woman or person of color or sexual minority was designing social media, you might be thinking about harassment first. It would be a high priority and not just like, oh, what can we do now? All right, we invented our thing, now what do we do about people who get harassed? Which is how it wound up developing?


Molly Crockett: Yeah. Did you see, I’m really not sure if this is a parody or not, but there was a, there was a presentation that Intel engineers gave a pitch that wants to use A.I. to monitor and censor hate speech in online voice chats. And there was a dashboard where you could decide how much misogyny, racism and xenophobia you want. And the options are like: do you want to turn the N-word on or off? Do you want to see none, some, most or all racism and xenophobia?


Ana Marie Cox: Like, I mean, so clearly designed by someone for whom the discussion of those topics does not engender fear.


Molly Crockett: Like a little bit of a, I’ll have moderate amount of misogyny. I don’t want the full amount, but all the little misogyny today, like—


Ana Marie Cox: I want to go back to maybe what you’ve been learning about that. Because it is, because I will tell you right now that was very satisfying for me. What have you been learning in the lab about, about what happens when people do this?


Molly Crockett: So I mean, the picture that is emerging not just from our team but also from other research teams, is that behaviors that we express online, our communications online and that could be outrage or other kinds of expressions do seem to follow these basic principles of reward learning that we see in humans, in lab experiments and indeed in many species besides humans. I mean, this is a really basic feature of human nature. If you reward something, it becomes more likely to happen in the future. So if you apply that logic to outrage, then this does suggest that the reinforcement mechanism that is built into these platforms is at the individual user level, increasing those expressions over time. Now, you know, you need to do lab experiments to really pinpoint the causal mechanism—which we have done, and it’s again the results are trivial in a sense. You know, it’s not surprising that if you reinforce the behavior, it becomes more likely in the future. Right. But applied to, applied to moral outrage, I think it’s, it just, you know, it raises some complicated questions. So on the one hand, you know, as we were saying earlier, I think we would all like for our moral discourse to be coming from our sort of best-self place. And the way that the platforms are designed seems not to encourage that.


Ana Marie Cox: And that’s important because in real life, let’s say our moral outrage is sometimes maybe triggered in a habitual way, but also there are more chances for it to come from a intellectual place? Like I’m trying to figure out if online is making us worse or if that’s just who we are.


Molly Crockett: It’s really difficult to answer that question again, because how do you compare online and offline? They’re different in so many ways. Right. So just the way that you can express outrage online is very different from offline. It’s way less risky online. Right. Like going up to someone in real life who has said something harmful or is behaving in a terrible way is really stressful. And for many people, a very dangerous. Right. I mean, this is in a way lowering the threshold for the costs of expressing outrage, which, again, you can’t really evaluate as all good or bad, because I don’t think that we necessarily would have had #MeToo or Black Lives Matter without social media. Right. So it does, it does make it easier for people who face risks to express those those sentiments.


Ana Marie Cox: I love that you keep reminding me that this moral outrage has a social function that a lot of people would endorse. You know, that, for instance, it is dangerous for, say, someone of color to approach someone who’s being, you know, accosted or even just someone using a language that’s offensive. But put it online, you create a policy which may be, you know, I guess there’s some problems there, but then again, you get to do the exposure, you get to do the kind of shine-the-light that sometimes creates change.


Molly Crockett: So, yeah, absolutely. It’s nuance. That’s the main takeaway, right? Early, early in my work, a common response, like, oh, so should we just like take outrage out of the news feed, or should we find a way to just turn it all down? Because what about polarization and what about civility? And, you know, those arguments are tempting on their on their surface but outrage does serve a really important function. There is a worry that if you dial up the volume on everything, then it makes it harder to distinguish between issues that maybe we collectively want to focus our attention on and do something about, and ones that are maybe more trivial. And, but I think an even more concerning bad consequence about rage amplification online is that the algorithms can’t tell whether they’re amplifying Black Lives Matter or economic inequality outrage or . . .


Ana Marie Cox: Or having your meals served cold.


Molly Crockett: Um, or—


Ana Marie Cox: White supremacy.


Molly Crockett: White supremacy or misogyny. So Kate Manne has done some really excellent work on the philosophy of misogyny in in her book “Down Girl” she articulates how misogyny is a reaction to a perception that a woman has stepped out of her place. And so it is a kind of outrage. It’s a misguided kind of outrage, but, you know, the study hasn’t been done, I would love to be able to do a study looking at whether like the brain and psychological signatures of a misogynistic response resembles outrage about injustice or economic inequality or whatnot. But I think there is overlap. And indeed, we are doing some studies right now looking at the overlap in content between expressions of hate speech and expressions of outrage online. And our early results do suggest that there is some overlap. We’re not quite sure yet exactly how much. But it seems like it’s pointing in that direction


Ana Marie Cox: And in that study, are you looking at the algorithms and reward? Are you actually looking at the brain?


Molly Crockett: We’re just looking at the content of Tweets.


Ana Marie Cox: Ok. All right.


[ad break]


Ana Marie Cox: So I want to pull back a little bit, get away from talking specifically about Twitter and moral outrage, and talk about moral psychology because it’s a huge field, it’s a huge idea, and it has roots in a century or so ago. And I’m wondering, you know, our science, our hard science has gotten so much more sophisticated. I’m not sure if our soft science, our ideas have got more sophisticated? But I wonder, how has the thinking changed, over time in your field?


Molly Crockett: Yeah, so great question. I think, initial work on moral psychology really treated our moral sense as a dimension of reasoning. So you might have heard of Kholberg stages of moral development, where children, as they get older, become sort of increasingly sophisticated in how they reason about right and wrong. And up until the sort of ’90s, let’s say, the question of how humans think about morality was really about thinking.


Ana Marie Cox: It was philosophical inquiry and a logical inquiry more than biological or psychological.


Molly Crockett: Exactly. And then then in the sort of late 90s, early 2000s, you have folks like Jonathan Haidt, Josh Green, looking at the role of emotion in guiding our moral judgments, and brain imaging studies were becoming increasingly popular around the same time. So a field emerged around looking at the brain mechanisms of moral judgment and decision making. So that’s when I started doing my PhD. I sort of grew up in that field. And a lot of my work was, again, looking at the role of these basic rewards systems and how they interact with brain areas that are involved in reasoning like the prefrontal cortex. So we had some studies showing that when you have the opportunity to make money by delivering pain to another person, so it’s sort of an ill-gotten gain, the brain’s reward system responds less to that money than if you earn the money without harming somebody else. And so that shows just how morality or moral values can get into our basic reward system.


Ana Marie Cox: Oh! My question about sort of that overall journey that the field has been taking is it sounds a little bit like, so the early thinking about it gave us a lot more credit as humans. That it was really, it was reasoning exactly as you said. And I don’t want to say we get less credit as humans for having it less come from reason, but again, from what I gather it, we are only now understanding the level to which some of its biological, and some of its moral maybe doesn’t have a place in the body or place in the brain. Like it’s just, is it . . .?


Molly Crockett: Well, I think it’s the outside world getting in. It’s how we represent these shared ideas and goals about what is right or wrong and how those ideas get into the mechanics of our value and decision system. But if you trace, you know, early days, Oh, this is pure reason. It sort of swung the other way. You have Haidt and Greene say, oh, you know, emotions are so irrational, they take us away from making sensible moral decisions. And I think it’s sort of swinging back towards the other direction now. So in a lot of the work that’s come out of my lab is looking at how our moral judgments really seem to be tuned to social relationships, and the demands of those relationships. So I like to think of our moral system as having a relational logic. And I don’t know, I don’t know why this hasn’t been a big idea in the literature so far, but one thing I’ve noticed is that there’s been a handful of philosophers whose ideas have really influenced moral psychology. And those philosophers have tended to be, you can guess . . .


Ana Marie Cox: Oh, were they straight white men?


Molly Crockett: They were.


Ana Marie Cox: Funny.


Molly Crockett: Ding, ding, ding. So, I’ve just gotten so much over the past several years of reading feminist philosophy, queer philosophy, ideas coming from people who have lived experiences that are just more diverse. And I’m planning now and sort of the next stage of my career to really start focusing even more on incorporating those kinds of ideas into moral psychology. So, Kate Manne was one. Miranda Fricker has done this work on epistemic injustice, which is about how our knowledge or lack of knowledge of certain concepts can prevent us from achieving social justice, if, before the concept of sexual harassment was a thing, there were millions of people around the world experiencing that, but they didn’t know it was a thing, and so they couldn’t articulate it and organize around it. And, you know, there are just lots of really fascinating descriptive questions to ask around these themes.


Ana Marie Cox: What you made me think of with that is moral psychology would look a lot different if perhaps you know the philosophers structuring it weren’t mostly assured that their ideas would be accepted, that they would be right most of the time, and that they were the norm.


Molly Crockett: Yeah.


Ana Marie Cox: Right? Because those of us who aren’t that norm in one way or another, even in our questions of morality, just in everyday life are more complicated. We have to think about other factors besides just pure morality, right?


Molly Crockett: Exactly, exactly. Yeah.


Ana Marie Cox: Or it might wind up being who knows what, I’m sure morality is, but we’re thinking about self, about self-preservation. You know, we’re thinking about the reaction of the other person. And I think Rebecca Solnit’s written about this.


Molly Crockett: Yep.


Ana Marie Cox: You know, because women, you know, not just women, but women in particular, are always having to wonder, is this person going to commit violence against me? It’s always. You know, there’s a little ping in the back of your head and, yeah, that’s going to change how you think about moral psychology. Thank you for letting me speechify that. So you’re a woman, studying people being mad online. I assume you’re online.


Molly Crockett: I am. Well, I’d like to be.


Ana Marie Cox: You might occasionally get mad. And what is your experience with outrage online, perhaps directed at you? Maybe not.


Molly Crockett: I mean, I think I’ve been pretty lucky to avoid being the object of of outrage. And I think that’s at least in part because I’m pretty careful and intentional about what I post online. I’ve, I don’t actually save my deleted tweets, but there were probably at least a 10:1 ratio, because whenever I feel compelled to share something, especially to express original opinions, as someone who studies online outrage, my mind automatically goes to how could this go terribly, terribly wrong? And so that has made me pretty careful and conservative. I mostly just try to amplify other people’s voices, because the other thing that’s been on my mind, especially over the past year, is that I’m a white, very privileged person, and I have a lot to learn in these spaces, and so I’m just trying to be really intentional about amplifying other people and listening and reading lots.


Ana Marie Cox: Where do you think this field is going?


Molly Crockett: Good question. The field of?


Ana Marie Cox: Moral psychology, studying moral outrage. I’m curious, the thing that you might feel either building towards—you talked about how, the acknowledgment of of humans as social animals is is starting to be more of an influence. But I’m just curious what you see, down the road.


Molly Crockett: Yeah. So what I’m most excited about is the marriage of the quantitative and qualitative. And by that I mean experimental psychology is this almost obsessive focus on quantitative data. We do experiments, we reduce or summarize human behavior to numbers that we can do statistical models on, and there’s huge value in that. But also so much is lost from exclusively focusing on quantitative data. And until very recently, qualitative research could not be scalable because it requires almost a literary approach. And you couldn’t study large numbers of humans with these with these methods. But, you know, as natural language processing is getting more and more advanced, I’m really excited, optimistic about the possibility that we can get the best of both worlds and find ways of understanding the really rich details of people’s lived experiences as it relates to morality, and combine that with these large datasets of human behavior to just understand one another better. That’s my hope.


Ana Marie Cox: Molly, thanks so much for coming on the show.


Molly Crockett: Thank you. It’s been a great pleasure.


Ana Marie Cox: Today on With Adorables Like These, Rutherford Falls star Jana Schmieding tells us about her cuddly cat children, Wilma and Shazzi. And, this is a first for us, she sings an original song that she serenades those kitties with. You’ll also hear from our producer, Alison Herrera. She’ll chime in about the other Wilmas in her life.


Ana Marie Cox: Can you give us your adorable’s name and describe them?


Jana Schmieding: Yes. OK, well, I have two cats. I have a boy, cat and girl cat. And I know gender is a construct and they have proven that to be true as well in terms of their lives and livelihoods. Wilma is my daughter. She’s an Olympic athlete. She’s very active and she is very shy around strangers and sometimes she hisses at men. So, you know, she’s like my athletic queer daughter.


Ana Marie Cox: And she is, what is what color is she?


Jana Schmieding: She’s like, I learned this term called Torby, which is a tortoise shell and a tabby. She has a very a lot of different colors. So, yeah, I’ve Wilma. And then my boy is Shazzy, which is the Lakota word for painted orange, and he is like wearing a one shoulder orange unitard. [laughs] And he’s a little bit fluffier than Wilma, and he’s very snuggly, very loving. He also loves, he loves men who visit like glam squad, whenever I have, like a makeup-hair person come and they’re two gay man, come and do my thing for interviews, Shazzy is just like such a, he like rolls around and loves to snuggle with them and like lay down their towels for their instruments and Shazzi will like perch there, and just he wants tons of pets, he wants all the attention, and he needs about four hardcore cuddles a day. But yeah.


Ana Marie Cox: So it sounds like you mentioned the story behind Shazzy.


Jana Schmieding: Yeah. Shazzy’s name and Wilma, I’ve had a lot of Willa’s in my life. I think Wilma is kind of a name that a lot of Native people encounter. A lot of Native Wiilma’s I don’t know. Am I right? Allison, do you know a lot of, you know any Wilmas?


Allison Herrera: Well, my, that used to be a nickname for an aunt of mine. Yeah. So definitely that. And then it was also my grandfather had a sister named Wilma.


Ana Marie Cox: And how long have you had your companions, and where did you get them.


Jana Schmieding: OK, at the beginning of the pandemic my friend found these group of kittens and momma cat in her backyard, and the momma cat kept moving them around, she was clearly, like she was a little bit in distress. And so she made, my friend made it like a box for her, the momma cat, and brought out food for the momma cat. And it just seemed like the momma cat was not taking to it. And so she was like moving the kittens around. And then she was like, OK, I’m going to call someone to come in and do a DNR with the momma cat and also we’re going to adopt out these kittens. And I said, I want two, please! And so we did, we fostered out the kittens and a foster mom took the kittens when they were young young and bottle fed them and raised them because I didn’t know what I was doing. And then I took them. I got them when they were like a few months old and they were still very tiny. And so I’ve had them since the beginning of the pandemic. They’re my best friends.


Ana Marie Cox: And of course, we here at the show believe all animals are emotional support animals. How have your animals specifically supported you?


Jana Schmieding: They are truly my children. Like I am, they have been with me through this very hard year and a half. They were with me when I didn’t think that the show was happening. And they were with me when the show happened. They were with me the entire production of Rutherford Falls. I mean, I wasn’t able to bring them to set with me, but they were with me through the pandemic and they’re so snuggly.


Ana Marie Cox: Do they have voices that you do for them?


Jana Schmieding: You know, no they do not have voices, but I have voices when I talk to them. I don’t make voices for them but when I talk to them, I use a very annoying, stupid baby voice.


Ana Marie Cox: And of course, we need to hear this.


Jana Schmieding: And I often sing songs for them. Yes. So like this morning, Shazzy was coming up to me and he was like, he like when I whenever I’m on my computer, he walks over and he puts his butt right in my face. And so I was singing a song that was like: [singing] a scratchy butt, you need a scratchy butt, you got a daily scratchy butt, you got an itch on your butt and I got to scratch it, and here we go, we’re going to scratch the butt.  But like, just ridiculously silly.


Ana Marie Cox: And last question, what cause would your adorables support, and if they would support different causes, siblings sometimes have political differences, so that would be fine.


Jana Schmieding: I think Wilma’s much more of a, you know, a socialist, if not communist. She’s a little bit more, like she has very strict political beliefs, leftist beliefs and so she’s probably an active contributor to the Red Nation, which is an indigenous leftist platform, media platform and also activist network. So, yeah, she’s a, she’s an active Red Nation member. And Shazzy is definitely a body posi, he’s all about like that positivity, queer and trans justice, king.


Ana Marie Cox: All right. That’s it for the questions. Thank you so much.


Ana Marie Cox: And that is it for the show. Thanks to Jana and Molly for their time, as well as everyone else who put the show together: Alison Herrera, Jordan Waller and Izzy Margulies. Louie Leeno engineered the episode. And I want to take a second here to remind you that it’s really helpful for you to rate and review us, even though we’ve been around for a while. We also have merch at the Crooked Media store, which I literally never mentioned. So if you get one of our Take Care of Yourselves shirts, I guarantee no one else at that voter registration drive will be wearing one, whereas other podcasts have T-shirts you will almost definitely see at that kind of thing. Promoting your own stuff is hard. It’s hard for me at least. If it’s hard for you, I invite you to promote something of yours today, to brag on yourself, or just give yourself a healthy pat on the back. That is, I promise you, a great way to take care of yourselves.