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We Now Know Why Revenge Feels So Good

Whoever coined the phrase “revenge is sweet” was onto something – scientifically speaking.

A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reveals that seeking out revenge on someone who has wronged you can balance out your bad mood.

University of Kentucky researchers asked 156 people to pen a personal essay and then asked them to swap essays for feedback. In a second study group, a researcher posing as a participant left cruel comments on some of the swapped essays. 

The participants were then given the opportunity to express how the feedback made them feel - by interacting with voodoo dolls that partially resembled the researcher who had left the cruel comments. They were given permission to poke some needles through the doll if they felt like it. 

The participants’ moods were recorded before the essay writing began and following the voodoo doll interaction. The researchers found that not only did the angriest participants regain their happy mood after torturing the voodoo doll, but for some, their mood was indistinguishable from those who had gotten positive feedback on their essays. 

Intrigued by these results, the researchers conducted a second study to determine whether participants were seeking revenge to ease their feelings of social rejection.

They asked 154 new participants to swallow a pill – which was actually a placebo – that they were told would improve their thinking for an upcoming test. Only some of the participants were told that a side effect of the pill was that their mood would remain stable from the halfway point of the following experiment.

The participants were then asked to play a videogame that involved passing a ball between themselves and two other partners. In one version of the game, the ball was passed by computer-controlled partners to human players half the time; in another, they were passed the ball a mere 10 percent of the time. 

The participants were then asked to express how they felt before being asked if they would like to get revenge on their partner; those who said yes were instructed to race one of their previous partners to a buzzer, with the winner of the race getting the opportunity to emit a loud noise in the loser's ears. With each successive victory, they were permitted to increase the noise level. 

As the researchers anticipated, those who chose to increase the volume were the same participants who had been rejected earlier (and more often) while playing the video game. The one curious exception to this phenomenon? Those who had taken the “mood stabilizing” placebo. The researchers believe this can be explained by the fact that those participants had been led to believe their moods couldn’t be improved, meaning there was no point in getting revenge.  

If this research makes you feel a little gross, please don’t seek vengeance on the messenger. 

h/t IFLScience.


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