Revenge is sweet but corrosive

Photo by Flickr user Andrew EbrahimRevenge may be a dish best served cold but it will probably leave you with a nasty aftertaste, at least according to an article in the latest edition of the American Psychological Society’s Monitor magazine.

The piece looks at some of the growing number of studies on the psychology of retribution, examining cultural differences in triggers for revenge and explanations for why it is so common.

One of the most interesting bits is where it covers a study finding that while we think revenge will make us feel better after an injustice, it seems to have the opposite effect and makes us feel more unhappy.

The study in question involved participants taking part in a group investment game where, when it came to the crunch, one of the participants deliberately acted selfishly and took a whole lot of the money at the others’ expense.

Then Carlsmith offered some groups a way to get back at the free rider: They could spend some of their own earnings to financially punish the group’s defector.

“Virtually everybody was angry over what happened to them,” Carlsmith says, “and everyone given the opportunity [for revenge] took it.”

He then gave the students a survey to measure their feelings after the experiment. He also asked the groups who’d been allowed to punish the free rider to predict how they’d feel if they hadn’t been allowed to, and he asked the non-punishing groups how they thought they’d feel if they had.

In the feelings survey, the punishers reported feeling worse than the non-punishers, but predicted they would have felt even worse had they not been given the opportunity to punish. The non-punishers said they thought they would feel better if they’d had that opportunity for revenge‚Äîeven though the survey identified them as the happier group.

Link to article ‘Revenge and the people who seek it’.

3 Comments

  1. airship1951
    Posted June 3, 2009 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    Did they do a study that involved exacting revenge for something significant? For example, getting revenge on someone who murdered your entire family? I think the results would be quite different.

  2. Dathan N
    Posted July 3, 2009 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    @airship1951 No, my man, you never win with violence: There’s always a better way. Don’t think you’re better then you’re conscience – you’re just a human – it will hound you till the day you die.


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