Psychology behind Retaliation- Part 2

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I had established the idea in my previous blog post that seeking revenge feels good but not for a very long time. It feels good in the short-term and for that instant pleasure we put in a lot of energy to bring things in complete balance. The idea that ‘revenge is sweet’ needs more explanation, however. Thankfully, a German psychologist Mario Gollwitzer came forward to do just that. Gollwitzer wanted to prove that many times people feel they are going to feel the happiest after taking revenge and when they don’t it should not mean that revenge has no value. Or that it is always bitter.

Theories of Revenge

Gollwitzer came up with two theories on revenge through which he tried to explain why people find revenge so appealing and satisfying. The first theory is called “comparative suffering” and the second one is called “understanding hypothesis”. Comparative suffering theory is based on an idea that the offended one feels very much good and content seeing the offender suffering the same way. While understanding hypothesis theory says “an offender’s suffering is not enough, on its own, to achieve truly satisfactory revenge. Instead, the avenger must be assured that the offender has made a direct connection between the retaliation and the initial behaviour.

Why message should be delivered?

In order to give more explanation to an idea ‘revenge is sweet’, Gollwitzer came up with an interesting research experiment. He randomly selected participants for the study and asked them to solve some puzzles or riddles. Every participant was assigned a partner. And every participant’s partner was also assigned the same puzzles but in a different room. If the riddles or puzzles were solved correctly each team of two people would be getting a gift certificate of 25 Euros. When researchers asked the participants to divide the amount they did so equally. However, their partners who were actually research confederates did not opt for dividing the amount equally but took the entire amount to themselves. Interestingly, participants were informed of this injustice and given a chance to retaliate by reducing the share amount of their partners. More than 50% of the participants took their revenge.

Furthermore in the study Gollwitzer gave participants a chance to send their partners a note. Majority of them did send their note. To make research even more interesting participants who took their revenge by reducing the share amount of gift certificate, received responses from their partners. In one type of responses participants got an understanding from their partners that they took revenge because of the unjust action. While other responses reflected no understanding and rather indicated a bit of rudeness or disrespect for what the participants did. After getting all these responses participants were asked to rate their level of satisfaction.

What were the findings?

  1. Participants who received responses from their partners reflecting an understanding were much more satisfied than the ones who received indignant responses from their partners.

Gollwitzer’s research shows that revenge is not only about making others suffer the way we did. In order to make revenge successful it is very important that the avenger gets an understanding from the offender as to why that revenge was taken in the first place.