A few years ago a group of Swiss researchers scanned the brains of people who had been wronged during an economic exchange game. These people had trusted their partners to split a pot of money with them, only to find that the partners had chosen to keep the loot for themselves. The researchers then gave the people a chance to punish their greedy partners, and for a full minute, as the victims contemplated revenge, the activity in their brains was recorded. The decision caused a rush of neural activity in the caudate nucleus, an area of the brain known to process rewards (in previous work, the caudate has delighted in cocaine and nicotine use). The findings, published in a 2004 issue of Science, gave physiological confirmation to what the scorned have been saying for years: Revenge is sweet.

A thirst for vengeance is nothing if not timeless. It is as classic as Homer and Hamlet, and as contemporary as Don Corleone and Quentin Tarantino; as old as the eyes and teeth traded in the Bible, and as fresh as the raid that took the life of Osama bin Laden. But while the idea of revenge is no doubt delectable — the very phrase “just desserts” promises a treat — much of its sugar is confined to the coating. The actual execution of revenge carries a bitter cost of time, emotional and physical energy, and even lives. That minute before revenge is savory, as the authors of the Science study recognized; but what about the days and weeks that follow? …

Many early psychological views toward revenge were based on the larger concept of emotional catharsis. This idea, still widely held in the popular culture, suggests that venting aggression ultimately purges it from the body. But empirical research failed to validate the theory of catharsis, and some recent work contradicts it entirely. In a 2002 paper in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, APS Fellow Brad Bushman of The Ohio State University reported higher levels of aggression in people who had supposedly vented their anger than in those who had done nothing at all…

The long history of vengeance in art suggests a basic instinct for retribution ingrained in the human spirit. Indeed, recent facts largely confirm this age-old fiction: Revenge has been cited as a factor in one in five murders that occur in developed countries, and a report from 2002 found that between 1974 and 2000 three in five school shootings in the United States were driven by vengeance…

“In moments of pain, we seek revenge.”  Ami Ayalon

“The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.”  Marcus Aurelius

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