“Revenge is sweet and not fattening”- Alfred Hitchcock

We have all been slighted and have thought about revenge.

For me it was the time my dad ate my entire pack of magnum ice creams. There, staring into the icecreamless freezer, I started to plot my revenge. From that point onward, for the rest of summer the only icecream to be found in the freezer was Mint Choc Chip- the only icecream my dad hated. Ahhh… revenge, a dish best served cold- as the saying goes.

              Photo credit Xenia Petrovna via Flickr

But is revenge really that satisfying?
Revenge, and the ramifications of revenge- are a very popular theme throughout the creative arts – be it in poetry, literature, songs or films (especially Quentin Tarantino’s films). One of the key pivotal moments is when the seeker of revenge is finally able to get back at the person (or persons) who have done them wrong. After which the avenger tends to react in a range of ways- either satisfaction, disappointment, or a mixture of the two. So, is revenge in real life just as satisfying as it is in the movies?

It is important to understand the difference between our emotions and moods. Emotions tend to relate back to a clear specific trigger and can be intense but often fleeting. Moods can come about more gradually, lasting for a longer time and often are of low intensity.

A 2014 study found that there is little evidence that revenge contributes towards a better mood- instead we tend to feel worst after taking revenge. We tend to love (emotion) revenge, as we are punishing the offender, however the act of revenge then reminds of the event that caused us to want revenge in the first place- therefore affecting our mood negatively.

But how exactly does our brain react when we feel slighted?

Researchers have recently identified the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, as the area what activates to supress revengeful thoughts and actions. Participants in the study undertaken by the University of Geneva played a game in which they were confronted with both fair and unfair behaviour by other players. Brain imaging was used to identify the area activated after experiencing unfair behaviour. Participants were then given the option to seek revenge, with further imaging being done after this phase, which identified the activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

The more active this area is during a provocation phase- when feeling unfairness and anger- the less likely someone will take the opportunity to take revenge. There is therefore a direct correlation between brain activity at this site, known for emotional regulation, and behavioural choices.

So next time, when someone tells you that you should take the high road, you can tell them that it’s not up to you but instead on how active your dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is! (I’m not sure if that will work as an excuse in a court of law).


2 Responses to ““Revenge is sweet and not fattening”- Alfred Hitchcock”

  1. Gemma Higgins says:

    Oh no! For me they didn’t require a pay wall and I was not going through a university link. I’ll try to source it through another means.
    Revenge is a vengeful act getting back at the person/people who have created the injustice. I believe the ‘taking the high road’ option isn’t seen as revenge, as rather than hurting the person, you are instead showing you are above them? (If that makes sense). So really, your dorsolateral cortex will be more active as you are suppressing revenge by instead bettering yourself.

  2. Hi Gemma,
    Interesting post. I’d imagine that studying a complex behaviour such as revenge is…complicated for a lack of a better term. Well written and relatable. I tried to click the link to the study and it re-directed me to a login page, is there a way to get through the paywall? Otherwise great job.

    Just wondering, what if people redefined their revenge in more positive ways? For example, instead of trashing an ex-partner’s car, someone builds a successful career. Is acting on that feeling of revenge still negative in that sense?