When does revenge taste sweet? A short tale of revenge

However, it should be noted that the results should not be interpreted in such a way that retributive punishment is ultimately motivated by a desire to feel better. Rather, it seems to be motivated by a desire to establish justice; through punishment the perpetrator gets what he deserves (Aquino, Tripp, & Bies, 2006), which subsequently leads to a feeling of satisfaction. A recent paper by Gollwitzer and Bushman (in press) provides further evidence that retributive punishment is not solely motivated by the desire to feel better but rather to re-establish justice. In their studies, participants punished a wrong-doer regardless of their expectation to improve their own mood.

At this point one might wonder: Why is it so important to know why revenge can be sweet? It can be argued that finding out what truly satisfies people when taking revenge may help to detect the underlying motivational roots of this behavior. Or, put differently: What people hope to achieve by taking revenge, and what gives them the feeling of justice being restored may be derived from their emotional reaction to these type of behavior.

Nevertheless, revenge may only be considered as one side of the coin. Due to the fact that revenge is likely to impose costs upon the avenger (e.g., counter- revenge), “forgiveness” strategies are developed (e.g., McCullough, 2008). The so-called “forgiveness system” inhibits revenge, when the costs of such behavior outweigh the benefits. Consequently, one should keep in mind that revenge is thus not the only means for challenging injustice.


The results presented here should not be understood as a call to never suppress the desire for revenge, but rather to refrain from overreacting and carrying out the more destructive forms – like violence – or in the worst case: murder. Instead, it is better to exactly think about what one wants to accomplish with revenge. Indeed, sometimes revenge can be sweet, but like all sweet things it should be consumed in moderation.

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