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Payback Time Why Revenge Tastes So Sweet

Payback Time Why Revenge Tastes So Sweet - TheNewYorkTimes...

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The New York Times http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B04E0DD153DF934A15754C0A9629C 8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=print July 27, 2004 Payback Time: Why Revenge Tastes So Sweet By BENEDICT CAREY A raised eyebrow was all it took. She waited until a year after the breakup, until after he had proposed to the other woman ‐‐ a model, did he mention that? ‐‐ and the new couple had begun planning the wedding. That's when she ran into a mutual friend who had spent a few days staying with her ex. ''And you were, uh, comfortable staying there?'' she said to the friend. What are you talking about? he said. And then the eyebrow arched, and voilà, suspicions about her former boyfriend's sexual orientation were loosed. ''Yes, I'm a Scorpio, so I'm un peu vindictive,'' said the woman, who swore certain payback if her name appeared in this newspaper. Vindictive, perhaps, but also fundamentally protective. Revenge may be frowned upon, viewed as morally destitute, papered over with platitudes about living well. But the urge to extract a pound of flesh, researchers find, is primed in the genes. Acts of personal vengeance reflect a biologically rooted sense of justice, they say, that functions in the brain something like appetite. Alternately voracious and manageable, it can inspire socially beneficial acts of retaliation and punishment as well as damaging ones. The emerging picture helps explain why many people who think they are above taking revenge find themselves doing nasty, despicable things, and how unconscious biases pervert what is at bottom a socially functional instinct. ''The best way to understand revenge is not as some disease or moral failing or crime but as a deeply human and sometimes very functional behavior,'' said Dr. Michael McCullough, a psychologist at the University of Miami. ''Revenge can be a very good deterrent to bad behavior, and bring feelings of completeness and fulfillment.'' Retaliatory acts, anthropologists have long argued, help keep people in line where formal laws or enforcement do not exist. Before Clint Eastwood and Arnold Schwarzenegger, there was Alexander Hamilton, whose fatal duel with Aaron Burr was commemorated this month on the banks of the Hudson River. Recent research has shown that stable communities depend on people who have ''an intrinsic taste for punishing others who violate a
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community's norms,'' said Dr. Joseph Henrich, an anthropologist at Emory University in Atlanta.
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