US social psychologist Jonathan Haidt reveals why we're living in an 'age of outrage'

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has no time for attitude.

The best-selling author and NYU Ethical Leadership professor is taking a stand against those who wield their outrage like a weapon in a society fuelled by social media.

He's been named as one of the 25 most influential psychologists in the world, and Haidt is not afraid to confront, challenge or offend his audiences. 

Haidt has taken on religion, politics, parenting and social media, and now he's on a quest to figure out what's behind the world's current "age of outrage".

Haidt believes over-protective "safetyism" and social media are to blame for a sudden, severe spike in mental illness statistics among young people.

"Beginning around 2012, kids in Gen-Z, born in 1996 or later, suddenly start having very high rates of anxiety and depression - especially the girls," Haidt said on Tuesday's episode of The Project.

"Kids migrated onto social media between 2009 and 2011, and all the mental health stats started going haywire in roughly 2012. 

"Social media really [impacts] our kids' development. They're just learning how to be social, and this really messes it up," the psychologist said.

A number of studies and research has proven that heavy social media usage correlates to poor mental health prospects.

He says girls are more sensitive to the constant social comparison of perfect lives, have a stronger fear of missing out and females aggression has always been relational. 

As society becomes more enslaved to its screens, Haidt has coined the term 'age of outrage' to describe deteriorating social relations.

"Depending on social surroundings and context, humans can either come together to fight their enemies or let their guard down and learn from each other," said Haidt.

"Especially in secular, multi-ethnic diverse societies, we really have to work on turning down the tribalism. Then social media comes in - and it's really good at turning it up. 

"[Consequently], there's a real shift in the balance between openness and cooperation, to defensiveness and outrage."

Haidt says social media's lack of forgiveness, forgetting and mercy - and its plethora of extremist values, judgement and punishment - is turning the world's democracies into savage, dysfunctional spaces.

Although Haidt concedes that social media has its advantages, it's clear that the disadvantages are having severe impacts on society.

"Not everything about social media is terrible, its effects on mental health are terrible," Haidt reiterates.

The psychologist went on to compare today's social climate to the extreme social tensions of the 1960s - but with a difference.

"With Martin Luther King [Jr] and identity politics in the 1960s, you settled things privately and with love in a humane way," said Haidt.

"You win people over and solve the problem. Calling people out just turns them into enemies."

Haidt is in New Zealand for the first time and is speaking at an event in Auckland's Bruce Mason Theatre on Thursday.

Watch the video for the full interview.