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The paradox of revenge in conflicts

Amegashie, J.Atsu
June 4, 2015

Source: (2012) Journal of Conflict Resolution 56(2) 313-330

The authors consider a two-period game of conflict between two factions, which
have a desire for revenge. It is shown that, in contrast to conventional wisdom, the
desire for revenge need not lead to escalation of the conflict. The subgame-perfect
equilibrium is characterized by two effects: a value of revenge effect (i.e., the benefit
of exacting revenge) and a self-deterrence effect (i.e., the fear of an opponent’s
desire to exact revenge). The authors construct examples where the equilibrium
is such that the self-deterrence effect paradoxically outweighs the value effect
and thereby decreases the factions’ aggregate effort below the level exerted in the
no-revenge case. This paradox of revenge is more likely, the more elastically the
benefit of revenge reacts to the destruction suffered in the past and the more asymmetric
is the conflict. The authors discuss the implications of revenge-dependent
preferences for welfare economics, evolutionary stability, and their strategic value
as commitment devices.


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