Science Has Shown That Revenge Is Actually Sweet Because It Repairs Our Mood
We’ve all experienced revenge in one way or another. Either we wanted to inflict in on someone else, or someone else has done it to us. Hopefully, it wasn’t anything too serious, but we have to admit that it made us feel a tiny bit better; didn’t it? Well, according to David Chester and C. Nathan DeWall from the University of Kentucky, it does.
By their research, it seems that once people get ostracised through social rejection or other means, which leads us to feel unwanted, our brains trigger a response in order to repair our mood through revenge. Their findings were reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
The two lead researchers recruited 156 volunteers to take part in the experiment. They gave each of them an essay to write on a personal topic. The essays themselves were not complicated or important, for that matter, but they were then instructed to swap their works with their fellow volunteers and give each other reviews on their essays.
But unbeknownst to them was the fact that some of the reviews were actually written by the researchers and were purposely very nasty and mean: “One of the worst essays I have EVER read,” among others just like it.
After each participant read the review they received for their work, they were then asked to express their wounded feelings by sticking pins in a voodoo doll which stood for the person who seemingly gave them that bad review. And after countless pinpricks, these participants reported feeling better. In fact, their mood was indistinguishable from the control group which didn’t receive negative feedback for their essays.
The second round of the Revenge experiment.
While the first part of the experiment had shown that people acted “aggressively” against those who made them feel bad, it didn’t precisely show whether they did it to improve their mood or not. So, a second round of testing was devised.
This time, a new batch of 154 new volunteers were selected which were then given a pill that reportedly enhanced their cognitive abilities. But some of them, however, were told that this pill will have the side effect of fixing their mood in place. Nevertheless, the pill did none of that and was, in fact, a mere placebo.
Everyone was then invited to play a video game which involved three people and the purpose was to pass a ball around. But again, even though the participants were told that they were playing with each other, they were actually playing against a computer. And for some of them, the computer passed the ball to them only once ever 10 passes. Those in the control group received an equal share of passes.
Like with the first experiment, those who were rejected this round were given the opportunity to inflict some pain on the “people” who wronged them. This second game involved pushing a buzzer, and the slowest person would receive a loud buzzing sound through their headphones. The people who were the fastest could then adjust the noise level as they saw fit. The noise could reach as high up as 105 decibels, equal to a helicopter hovering 100 feet above.
Unsurprisingly, those who were rejected during the passing ball game enacted revenge on those who didn’t pass them the ball. Of course, they didn’t know that the other people were not real. Interestingly, however, were those who were rejected the first time, but were told that the pill mentioned above would keep their mood in check. This group did not crank the volume up like the others, just like those who weren’t rejected at all.
“Together, these findings suggest that the rejection–aggression link is driven, in part, by the desire to return to affective homeostasis. Additionally, these findings implicate aggression’s rewarding nature as an incentive for rejected individuals’ violent tendencies,” the researchers wrote.
This last group, even though received the same level of rejection as the other one, decided against lashing out simply because they were told that their mood will not be altered by the pill. This experiment stands to show that in some cases, aggression comes from a sense of rejection in the first place.
But the researchers say that this study shouldn’t justify aggressive behaviour for the purpose of improving one’s mood, but rather to look at alternatives such as meditation. Because in the end, acting aggressively against someone, will most likely make that person retaliate for that exact same reason, in an endless cycle of vendettas.