Payback Time Why Revenge Tastes So Sweet

Payback Time Why Revenge Tastes So Sweet -...

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Unformatted text preview: 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
 community's
norms,''
said
Dr.
Joseph
Henrich,
an
anthropologist
at
Emory
University
in
 Atlanta.
 
 In
one
experimental
investing
game
involving
four
players,
for
example,
people
pay
to
 punish
others
who
contribute
meager
amounts
to
the
shared
investment
pool.
In
another,
a
 one‐on‐one
exercise
in
sharing
a
sum
of
money,
people
often
reject
any
offer
from
a
partner
 that
is
not
split
50‐50
or
close
to
it,
denying
both
players
a
payoff.
The
participants
are
 typically
strangers
who
will
not
see
each
other
again,
Dr.
Henrich
said,
so
they
are
not
 penalizing
others
to
develop
an
equitable
relationship
in
the
future.
They
are
retaliating
to
 enforce
the
rules
that
hold
the
game‐‐
and,
theoretically,
the
community
‐‐
together.
 
 Using
brain‐wave
technology,
Dr.
Eddie
Harmon‐Jones,
a
neuroscientist
at
the
University
of
 Wisconsin,
has
found
that
when
people
are
insulted,
they
show
a
burst
of
activity
in
the
left
 prefrontal
cortex,
a
part
of
the
brain
that
is
also
active
when
people
prepare
to
satisfy
 hunger
and
some
cravings.
This
increased
activity,
Dr.
Harmon‐Jones
said,
seems
to
reflect
 not
the
sensation
of
being
angry
so
much
as
the
preparation
to
express
it,
the
readiness
to
 hit
back.
 
 The
expression
itself
is
all
pleasure.
In
one
recent
experiment,
psychologists
demonstrated
 that
students
who
were
ridiculed
were
far
less
likely
to
avenge
themselves
on
an
offensive
 peer
if
they
had
been
given
a
bogus
''mood‐freezing
pill,''
which
they
were
told
blocked
the
 experience
of
pleasure.
 
 ''We've
shown
many
times
that
expressing
anger
often
escalates
and
leads
to
more
 aggression,''
said
Dr.
Brad
Bushman,
a
psychologist
at
the
University
of
Michigan
who
 conducted
the
study,
''but
people
express
it
for
the
same
reason
they
eat
chocolate.''
 
 Savoring
the
taste
can
be
satisfying
enough.
When
Kurt
Raedle,
40,
a
salesman
in
Kansas
 City,
Mo.,
had
a
new
leather
jacket
stolen
from
a
party,
he
fantasized
about
getting
his
 hands
on
the
thief.
A
month
later,
a
friend
spotted
the
rascal
wearing
the
jacket
at
a
bar
and
 helped
Mr.
Raedle
track
him
down.
Mr.
Raedle
said
he
telephoned
him.
''He
was
guilty,
and
 he
wanted
to
mail
the
jacket
to
me,
but
I
said
no.
I
wanted
him
to
return
it,
in
person,
to
my
 parents'
house.
I
wanted
him
to
face
the
parents
of
someone
he'd
stolen
from.''
 
 The
penalty:
a
half‐hour
discourse
on
morals
and
life
lessons
from
Mr.
Raedle's
father,
all
6
 feet
4
inches
and
250
pounds
of
him.
 
 This
kind
of
payback
is
closer
to
what
sociologists
and
philosophers
call
just‐deserts
 retribution.
Dr.
John
M.
Darley,
a
professor
of
psychology
and
public
affairs
at
Princeton
 University,
said
such
actions
involve
a
deliberate
effort
to
tailor
the
retribution
to
the
 crime,
often
taking
into
consideration
as
many
relevant
details
about
the
offender
and
the
 offense
as
possible.
 
 In
some
cases
it
may
be
possible
for
people
to
assuage
their
feelings
of
outrage
by
publicly
 protesting
the
injustice.
In
one
2003
study,
Dr.
Harmon‐Jones
tracked
the
brain‐wave
 patterns
in
students
who
had
just
been
told
the
university
was
considering
big
tuition
 increases.
They
all
got
angry,
he
said,
but
signing
a
petition
to
block
the
increases
seemed
 to
give
many
some
satisfaction.
 
 Yet
the
nature
of
appetite‐like
urges,
scientists
say,
is
to
err
on
the
side
of
excess.
Although
 soup
and
salad
might
suffice,
hungry
people
dream
of
the
dinner
buffet.
Likewise,
those
 who
feel
wronged
very
often
overdo
it,
engaging
in
extravagant,
almost
sensual
fantasies
of
 payback
‐‐
of
wrecking
a
household,
snuffing
a
career,
dancing
on
a
grave.
 
 ''Think
of
the
urge
as
kind
of
hunger,
a
lust,
a
deficit
the
brain
is
seeking
to
fill,''
Dr.
 McCullough
said,
''and
you
can
see
why
revenge
fantasies
can
be
so
delicious.''
 
 When
people
are
committed
to
a
relationship,
studies
suggest,
they
usually
content
 themselves
with
a
perfunctory
quid
pro
quo
for
the
day's
small
abuses:
He's
not
helping
 with
the
party,
let
him
find
his
own
food.
She's
burning
money
on
the
cell
phone,
time
to
 misplace
it.
 
 People
are
exquisitely
sensitive,
if
not
always
conscious,
of
this
subtle
give
and
take
and
 usually
manage
it
without
lashing
out.
But
wisecracks
or
other
offenses
that
challenge
 people's
most
cherished
beliefs
about
themselves
‐‐
their
discretion,
their
generosity,
their
 toughness,
their
intelligence
‐‐
can
prompt
a
craving
for
payback
that
goes
much
deeper.
 
 ''You're
talking
about
small
events
in
everyday
life
that
can
look
insignificant
until
they
 touch
some
old
conflict,
some
longstanding
betrayal
or
shame
the
person
carries,''
said
Dr.
 Irwin
Rosen,
a
psychoanalyst
in
Topeka,
Kan.,
who
studies
the
role
of
revenge
in
pathology.
 
 Dismayed
and
ashamed
at
their
own
vulnerability,
some
people
exact
the
revenge
on
 themselves,
Dr.
Rosen
said.
What
looks
like
self‐defeating
behavior
or
even
masochism
is
 fueled
by
a
deep
desire
to
hurt
someone
close.
One
of
his
former
patients,
a
32‐year‐old
 doctor,
was
drinking
herself
out
of
a
career
and
had
left
a
trail
of
ex‐husbands,
he
said
‐‐
 partly,
it
came
out
in
therapy,
to
get
revenge
on
a
brilliant
father
who
had
insisted
on
 flawless
devotion
from
his
children.
 
 Most
vengeful
acts
are
covert,
researchers
say,
traveling
in
whispers
and
unforwarded
 phone
calls,
in
knowing
glances
and
nasty
rumors.
 
 Few
people
want
to
look
vindictive.
 
 ''The
ideal,''
said
Dr.
Robert
Baron,
a
psychologist
in
the
school
of
management
at
 Rensselaer
Polytechnic
Institute
in
Troy,
N.Y.,
who
has
studied
workplace
reprisals,
''is
to
 ruin
the
other
person
without
him
knowing
what
happened,
without
him
knowing
if
 anything
happened.''
 
 Dr.
Baron
estimates
that
the
ratio
of
indirect
to
direct
acts
of
revenge
is
at
least
100
to
1.
As
 protective
as
this
indirection
is,
however,
it
gives
people
a
false
sense
of
control.
A
person
 who
feels
deeply
offended
may
respond
with
a
half‐payback
‐‐
missing
an
appointment,
 lapsing
into
grim
silence
for
a
short
period.
This
common
ploy,
Dr.
Rosen
said,
allows
 people
to
feel
they
have
retained
the
moral
high
ground.
Consciously
or
not,
they
are
giving
 themselves
wiggle
room
to
exact
more
payback,
if
they
wish,
because
they
have
not
 delivered
the
full
measure.
 
 ''The
whole
time
you're
saying
to
yourself,
'At
least
I
haven't
sunk
to
their
level,'''
Dr.
Rosen
 said.
 
 The
problem,
psychologists
say,
is
that
one
man's
restrained
response
is
another's
body
 blow.
While
acts
of
vengeance
may
be
carefully
measured,
their
impact
is
ultimately
 unpredictable,
and
they
may
invite
the
kind
of
backlash
that
turns
a
small
grudge
into
a
 lawsuit.
Many
people
Dr.
Baron
interviewed
had
waited
for
years
to
get
even
with
others
 who
had
themselves
probably
forgotten
the
offense,
plotting
until
they
got
an
opportunity
 to
''torpedotheir
enemy's
career,''
he
said.
During
the
interviews,
some
even
rubbed
their
 hands
together
at
the
memory,
like
cartoon
villains.
 
 Chuck
Moore,
52,
a
retired
salesman
living
in
Loveland,
Ohio
,
said
his
mother
had
canceled
 his
father's
funeral
at
the
last
minute
because
she
did
not
want
anything
good
said
about
 the
man.
''People
came.
The
church
was
closed.
Motto:
watch
out,
the
last
word
is
by
the
 living,''
Mr.
Moore
said
in
an
e‐mail
message.
 
 Researchers
have
found
a
number
of
ways
people
can
peaceably
satiate
their
hunger
for
 revenge:
Work
to
feel
empathy
for
the
other
person.
Savor
what
advantages
you
do
have.
 Pledge
to
behave
even
if
the
urge
for
vengeance
lingers
‐‐
to
behave,
if
not
to
forgive.
Think
 for
a
while
about
the
nasty
things
you
have
done.
 
 But
there
is
another
option,
said
John
Sawyer,
44,
a
Denver
businessman
who
lived
daily
 with
an
urge
to
exact
revenge
after
being
shot
one
February
night
in
1987
during
a
botched
 robbery
attempt.
 
 It
took
Mr.
Sawyer
six
months
to
recover
physically
from
the
gunshot
wound,
and
about
a
 year
before
he
stopped
being
angry
at
the
three
men
who
hurt
him.
 
 ''I
felt
that
forgiving
them
was
its
own
kind
of
revenge,''
he
said.
''It
showed
they
hadn't
 defeated
me;
it
was
like
I
had
risen
above
what
happened,
and
above
them.''
 
 
 ...
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This note was uploaded on 07/20/2010 for the course SOC 308 taught by Professor Kurtz during the Summer '07 term at University of Texas.

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