Revenge improves our mood in the short term, but we only carry out it if we believe that we are going to achieve that improvement.

Actor Jean-Louis Trintignan plays Hamlet

Jorge Luis Borges used to say that he did not speak “of revenge or forgiveness”, because “forgetting is the only revenge and the only forgiveness”. Perhaps the brilliant Argentine writer was right; in fact, some studies indicate that forgetting a grievance is the best way to overcome it. However, the reality is that many times human beings we succumb to the desire for revenge and, according to recent research, we do it to feel better.

It’s not the first time that a study indicates that revenge feels good. Already in 2004 the magazine Science published the results of an investigation according to which to carry out an action of punishment or retaliation activated the brain regions involved in the processes of reward. According to the authors of that study, their “findings support the hypothesis that people get satisfaction by punishing violations of the norms ”.

However, Virginia Comonwealth University researcher David Chester and his University of Kentucky colleague Nathan DeWall wanted to delve a little deeper into the revenge motivations and, through a study published in en Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, have concluded that “the aggrieved people act aggressively, only if they expect that the aggression can mend your mood“. The researchers concluded that “this strategy seems effective, since, after retaliation, the mood of the aggrieved individuals was indistinguishable from those who had not been.”

Science with a voodoo doll

To arrive at their conclusions, Chester and DeWall conducted six different studies essentially focused on of the experiments. In the first one, the researchers asked 156 participants to write an essay on a topic of their choice, and then exchange it with other participants and give them their opinion on the writing. However, in a second group, one of the researchers pretended to be a participant and set about leaving offensive comments on the essays of his peers.

Subsequently, the participants were given the opportunity to show how angry they were with the subject who had criticized their text. For this, they were offered a voodoo doll virtual that resembled the participant who had beaten them harshly. The results showed that the most aggrieved participants felt better after having nailed the needles in the doll, some of them even had “a state of mind indistinguishable from those who had not received criticism for their essays,” the authors say in the study.

The magic pill

However, this experiment did not yet prove the Chester and DeWall hypothesis. Would individuals still choose revenge even if they weren’t going to feel better? To try to answer this question, the researchers designed a new experiment in which they used a pill with special properties.

Each of the participants was offered a pill that supposedly would improve your abilities for the next test. The pill in question was actually a placebo and some of the subjects were told that, as secondary effect, his mood would stay stable from the middle of the experiment onwards.

Subsequently, each participant played a simple video game in which they simply had to pass a ball to two other teammates. Actually, the other two players were managed by a computer, which controlled how many times did he pass the ball to the participant. In one variant of the game, the machine passed the ball to the subject half the time, while in another it only passed the ball 10 percent of the time.

Those who barely received the ball during the game felt rejected and asked if they would like to get revenge from your playmates. Unsurprisingly, those who had felt the most aggrieved were those who agreed to participate in the revenge and carried it out with greater frequency and intensity.

However, there was one exception. Individuals who were told that the pill they had taken would keep their mood constantthey did not opt ​​for revenge. The fact that her mood wasn’t going to improve, the researchers concluded, made it Useless To drink retaliation, so they chose not to take revenge.

Chester and DeWall’s study goes a little deeper into a question that is Vital importance when trying to mediate conflicts and reduce levels of violence and its conclusions can be interpreted as Good news to these effects. As Chester explains to EL ESPAÑOL, “if the main motivation of a person to attack another is to improve their mood, then we are in luck because there is many ways to repair emotions without hurting others“.

A short-term pleasure?

Furthermore, as the study authors acknowledge, the “mood measurements occurred relatively quickly after the revenge,” so they were unable to measure moods. long-term consequences. What’s more, the researchers say that “it is possible that the positive effects of revenge diminish over time and that the mood returns to previous levels shortly after.”

In this regard, Chester says they are collecting data for a new study that suggests that this may be the case and that the revenge can backfire. According to this researcher, retaliation can end up “causing a extremely negative mood later on“. In summary, Chester concludes: “If you are trying to feel better, one of the worst things you can do is seek revenge“.

Jesús Martín Ramírez, a researcher at the Complutense University and director of the Nebrija-Santander Chair in Risk and Conflict Management, is also shown in this vein, who has explained to EL ESPAÑOL that human beings perceive revenge as “nice, especially short term, but in the long term the situation may be different ”.

Martín, who considers the Chester and DeWall study as “very serious and well thought out”, is the main author of another reference article when it comes to analyzing revenge attacks. In this work, the Spanish researcher and his collaborators showed that “in the social conflicts, the behavior tends to maximize the pleasure experienced “and that” the aggression produces pleasure in the aggressor, except in extreme intensities ”.

However, like Chester, Martín clarifies that this does not mean that revenge is always the best strategy to overcome an injury, nor the one that can provide us with the most pleasure. “We must bear in mind that, although revenge is perceive as pleasant, there are many behavioral alternatives that are better and offer, in the long run, better results for the individual ”.

There is no doubt that revenge is a impulse that has accompanied the human being throughout his existence and possibly originally developed as a survival mechanism. Still, if we are faced with situations in which we feel unjustly wronged, perhaps we should remember the words of Francis Bacon: “By taking revenge, one equals his enemy; by forgiving, one shows oneself superior to him ”.