Why Revenge Feels So Good, According To Science

I bet we all had a moment in life when we wanted to get back at an enemy, or even a friend of ours. ‘Revenge is best serve cold’ – isn’t that sweet, and now a new research may be telling us why revenge brigs such satisfaction – it balances out our previously negative mood.

A quite extraordinary story unrolls in a paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology concerning this topic. Apparently, the creators of this serious scientific study decided to use actual voodoo dolls as props, and when something like this happens, it’s normal to think that something strange is going on.

Namely, the scientist carrying out the research for the University of Kentucky interviewed 156 participants, and asked them to write an essay on no particular topic that had to be related to their personal life and experience. Then, the participants were asked to swap their essays with others in order to get some feedback. However, as any other research, this one had different test groups, and this is only what happened in the control group. In a crafty second group, one of the researchers infiltrated pretending to be a participant and made efforts to leave the most dreadful comments on some of the people who also took part.

Afterwards, they gave the participants an opportunity to demonstrate how angry the feedback did or did not make them. At this stage a virtual voodoo doll was introduced to the research, and the participants were given the chance to interact with it. They all got a doll that looked like the participant who practically shattered their essay writing skills and were allowed to poked some needles through it.

The mood of the participants was taken before the essay writing began and after the voodoo doll interaction. Interestingly enough, not only did the most aggrieved participants manage to return to their original, happier mood after taking part in a little bit of a doll torture, but for some people, their mood was no different from those who had received positive essay feedback.

However, there’s a caveat here. It may seem like people are seeking revenge for their social rejection in order to fix their mood, but another twisted game was to determine whether or not the stated was true.

For the second test, another 154 participants were asked to take a pill – actually a placebo – that would improve their cognitive skills before the upcoming test. Some of the subjects were told that a side-effect of this pill was that their mood would remain stable from about the halfway point of the next experiment.

They then had to play a simple video game involving being passed a ball between themselves and two other partners. In one variant of the game, the ball was passed successfully by the computer-controlled partners to the human players half the time; in another, they were passed the ball just 10 percent of the time.

Then, the researchers asked them to describe their emotional state before asking them whether they would like to get their revenge on their partner in the game. Those who answered positively were asked to play another game of torture.

For this evil game, the players had to race one of their previous partners to a buzzer. The reward for the winner included blasting noise into the ears of their opponent. Every time they won, they were allowed to – but didn’t have to – increase the volume of the noise attacks that had the same intensity of a helicopter hovering just overheard.

As expected, the participants who chose to increase the volume were those that were repeatedly rejected earlier in the video game.

Curiously, there was one exception to this – those that had taken the “mood-stabilizing” pill. It seems that the likelihood that their mood would never improve meant that they never saw the point of attempting to fix it through revenge.

So there we have it. It looks like revenge is sweet after all, because we use it to intentionally give our faulty selves a positive emotional boost.


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