Science Confirms: Revenge Is Sweet. But Why?


We often hear that revenge is sweet, but we also hear other stuff that is supposed to keep us from taking revenge, like “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” from Confucius. A recent study, however, confirms that there’s pleasure in seeking vengeance. Here’s how.


Let’s face it, revenge is a deep instinct that almost everyone has.

We seek it as a way to establish justice. Previous studies have shown that we may seek revenge “if we're motivated by power, by authority, and by the desire of status.” Actually, it’s a coping mechanism that we use to feel less ashamed or to protect ourselves from further damage.

Recently, researchers from the University of Kentucky tried to figure out exactly what boosts our mood when we take revenge.

They found out that aggression can be a viable method of mood repair, but the relief that anger provides is a wretched consolation.

Here are the details of the study...

156 college students were asked to write an essay on a personal topic of their choice before they swapped with others to get feedback. One group of participants received nasty feedback (composed by the researchers), such as "one of the worst essays I have EVER read." The researchers measured mood before and after participants were given the chance to express a symbolic form of aggression — sticking pins in a virtual voodoo doll imagined as the person who had given them mean feedback (black magic). Turns out, this did really repair mood for those rejected, to the point where their mood was indistinguishable from participants who received nice feedback.

To investigate motives, David Chester and C. Nathan DeWall recruited 154 students who were given a placebo pill and told it had a specific side effect.

Once it kicked in, their mood would become fixed and unchanging. The students took part in a computer-based game where they and two other players passed a ball back and forth. Those placed in the "Rejection condition" experienced a cold shoulder from their two playmates, which were pre-programmed computer responses. They received only three of the 30 passes, compared to an equal share of passes in the "Accepted condition."

Participants then were asked to rate how rejected they felt, and felt the need to take a chance on revenge.

The next game was a simple "first to the buzzer" reaction race. Each round the slower player was punished by a blast of noise through their headphones. When participants were faster, they could adjust the intensity of the noise suffered by their opponent, up to 105 decibels (which is the volume of a jackhammer or a helicopter hovering at 100 feet).

Participant who'd suffer rejection chose to inflict louder sound blasts on their opponent.

But those who were given the placebo pill, and were rejected, were unaffected by snubbing. Apparently, the pill made them believe they had no immediate way of improving their mood, so there would be no point lashing out.

During the break between the games, these participants were warned that the drug was by now fully active and their mood would stay as it was for an hour.

So the participants restricted their sound blasts to the lower levels administered by participants who hadn’t suffered earlier rejection.

The reason why getting revenge may stroke our ego is to alleviate our bad mood.

But if we can fix our mood in another way, we don't need revenge. So while revenge is really sweet, it may be more beneficial in the long run to try to find different, harmless ways that can calm your nerves instead!

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