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What makes revenge sweet: Seeing the offender suffer or delivering a message?

Gollwitzer, Mario
June 4, 2015

Source: (2009) Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 45:840-844.

The present article investigates the conditions under which vengeful episodes are satisfactory for the victim/
avenger. Two hypotheses are tested simultaneously: (1) victims are satisfied if they see the offender
suffer, even if this suffering was imposed by fate (‘‘comparative suffering” hypothesis) and (2) victims are
satisfied if the offender signals that he understands why revenge was imposed upon him (‘‘understanding”
hypothesis). A laboratory experiment is described in which the source of the offender’s suffering
(revenge vs. fate) and the offender’s understanding for the cause of his suffering were varied. As an implicit
measure of goal fulfillment, participants completed a lexical decision task that measured the relative
accessibility of aggression-related words (compared to non-aggressive words). The results corroborate
the understanding hypothesis: Participants showed higher levels of implicit goal fulfillment if they
decided to take revenge and if the offender signaled understanding for the vengeful response. The findings
are discussed with regard to the question what people hope to achieve when they take revenge. (author’s abstract)


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