Revenge Is Bittersweet at Best

Psychologist Michele Gelfand has long been curious about conflicts and how we might negotiate our way out of them. She’s especially intrigued by the psychological desire to retaliate — and the fact that this urge is so often contagious. People not involved in the original conflict may sometimes feel like taking revenge for the harm done to others in their group. They might even take it out on relatives of the perpetrator or others perceived as belonging to the same group, even if those people hold no responsibility whatsoever. Gelfand, now at the University of Maryland, tackles the topic with a range of research tools, from brain imaging in the lab to fieldwork in the Middle East. In an article in the 2019 Annual Review of Psychology, she and her colleagues explain what revenge research has taught us so far.

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