A new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology called Combating the Sting of Rejection With the Pleasure of Revenge: A New Look at How Emotion Shapes Aggression confirms that getting back at someone who caused you suffering actually can make you feel better by improving your mood. Simply put, this is why people often do seek revenge.
In a series of six studies, David S. Chester of Virginia Commonwealth University and C. Nathan DeWall of University of Kentucky attempted to understand why revenge may in fact, feel sweet.
For example, in one experiment, 156 participants were asked to write a personal essay. They were told their essay would be given to another participant for feedback. Some participants received horrible feedback, with nasty comments (written by the researchers) describing how awful the essay was.
Then the researchers gave participants virtual “voodoo dolls” representing the person who wrote the comments, and told the participants that they could, if they liked, stick “pins” in them. You may be surprised (or not) to know that those who did stick pins in the dolls actually reported that their negative mood was gone. In fact, the measured mood indicators after the pin-sticking were the same as participants who received positive comments about their essays to begin with!
Mood Repair and Preventative Action
If the research is right, getting even will improve your mood. Another, albeit politically incorrect, point in favor of revenge is that it can be a preventative. If someone’s bullying you and you pound him, he’ll run and other bullies will think twice about coming after you.
If someone cheats you in a business transaction and you sue, you may get a side of revenge along with justice. It also sends a warning out to others: Don’t mess with me, I’m someone who will stand up for myself.
The other party might back down. Unless of course, an all-out tit for tat war starts.
Everyone has moments of anger in response to being unfairly (or even fairly) targeted or attacked. It doesn’t mean you have a personality disorder or any other disorder to have flashes of these kinds of negative feelings. However, I’d strongly argue that to nurture these feelings and turn them into a revenge fantasy or action plan of any kind, does a disservice to your humanity. Even if you achieve a better mood by doing so.
Positive approaches also may work to repairing mood, from “talking out the problem” or “venting” to stress-relieving meditation to prayer. Another option is introspective meditation, where we seek reasons for our feelings and construct psycho-spiritual action plans to make improvements.
What’s the right thing to do when you’re harmed? Obviously many factors come into play, but seeking revenge for the sake of revenge (or for the sake of your mood)…well, can you do better?
Related post: Which Is Sweeter, Justice Or Revenge?