Revenge, it turns out, is bittersweet -- at best.
At least, that's the conclusion of a recent psychological study that suggests revenge is not as satisfying as people think. In fact, the new study builds on previous research that indicates revenge is a strange and slippery phenomenon, indeed. Jules Suzdaltsev has the details in today's DNews report.
Let's start with the most recent study. Psychologists at Washington University in St. Louis conducted a series of experiments in which test subjects were instructed to read a packet of news stories. Among those stories was an account of the killing of Osama bin Laden, in retaliation for the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Subjects were then asked to rate the intensity of any moods and emotions triggered by the news stories. The assessment process is rather complicated, but the upshot is this: Reading about revenge tended to put people in a bad mood, to the degree that they dwelt on the original act. But it also generated spikes of positive emotion, at least for a little while.
The purpose of the new study was, in part, to make a distinction between lingering moods and short-term emotions. It represents the latest contribution to a long-running argument about whether revenge is, in fact, sweet. Results of multiple dedicated studies suggest that the issue is surprisingly complex.
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In 2004, Swiss researchers set up an experiment in which participants were able to take revenge on a teammate that wronged them in a game. They found that the caudate nucleus, an area of the brain associated with reward, did indeed light up when people mulled revenge. But acting on those thoughts turned out to be a dead end, in terms of the brain scans.
In a 2008 study, researchers at Colgate University ran a similar experiment, in which subjects could choose to act out a revenge scenario ...or not. Those who chose revenge still felt angry immediately afterward, and even 10 minutes afterward. The Colgate study inspired the recent Washington University study concerning emotions and moods.
With each new study, revenge only seems to get more complex, from a psychological point of view. Check out Jules' video for more details on the cyclical nature of revenge-seeking, and keep in mind the famous advice from Confucius: "Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves."
-- Glenn McDonald
Psychological Science: The Complicated Psychology Of Revenge
Science Daily: Make No Mistake, Revenge is (Bitter) Sweet
Social Science Research Network: The Paradoxical Consequences Of Revenge