How revenge makes you feel, according to science

IIt’s not often that a movie or TV plot set in high school sees the popular mean girl and the goofy nerd collide (at least from the start, that is). But that’s precisely what happens in Netflix’s new dark comedy Revenge– a clear indication of the power and universality of the lure of revenge. In the film, Drea Torres (Camila Mendes) befriends transfer student Eleanor (Maya Hawke), so they can do the revenge of the other, the former seeking to punish her ex-boyfriend after he allegedly leaked her sex tape, and the latter seeking revenge against a childhood bully. But as their respective storylines unfold, one thing becomes clear: the way you think getting revenge isn’t always how you actually feel.

A visceral, emotionally driven act, revenge is often described in terms of to taste: bittersweet. And according to science, it’s actually a pretty good metaphor for how revenge makes you feel in the moment.

“When you trigger the retaliation, there’s actually an increase in negative emotions, but as a consolation you also get an increase in positive emotions at the same time”, says David Chester, Ph.D.Associate Professor of Social Psychology and Director of Social Psychology and Neuroscience Laboratory at Virginia Commonwealth University. “You feel upset, but you also feel good, and those feelings are intertwined in this type of ambivalent state.”

Why revenge can be both good and bad in real time

Based on behavioral research (how participants assess aggressive responses to provocations) and neuroimaging evidence (looking at brain activation during retaliation), it is clear that revenge has certain hedonically rewarding qualities.

“Revenge is similar to an orgasm in terms of an enjoyable, hedonistic experience in the moment.” —David Chester, PhD, associate professor of social psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University

“Research suggests we’re not too cognitively sophisticated about it, so we don’t really think, ‘It feels good because of X or Y,'” says Dr Chester. “It’s more like an orgasm in terms of a pleasurable, hedonistic experience in the moment.”

Indeed, acting with vengeance triggers the reward circuitry in the brain, releasing dopamine and endogenous opioids, feel-good chemicals, adds Dr. Chester. “While the first is about wanting to do something, the second is about feeling good once you’ve done it,” he says, and when you get revenge, you get both. It’s your brain saying “I want revenge, and I like to take this revenge.

At the same time, as you retaliate, you also feel these intense negative emotions of anger because you’re excited by the provocation that spurred the revenge in the first place and you’re doing something to actively hurt someone. , says Dr. Chester. But these negative feelings are not necessarily treated as wrong.

“We tend to think of anger as something we never want to feel, but in reality, there are many situations where people want and like to feel angry,” says Dr. Chester. And one of them is definitely when you act out to get revenge on someone who has wronged you. “Yes, you feel angry, but you’re probably also want to feel rage when you slap someone in the face in revenge,” says Dr Chester. To understand why, consider the opposite: “If you were suddenly only feeling joyful and happy, it would be totally absurd to have just hit that person,” says Dr. Chester.

Essentially, the feeling of anger is the motivation for revenge, and the spark of pleasure is the hedonic reward for inflicting harm on someone who has hurt you. Together they create that palatable combination we call bittersweet – a neurochemical elixir potent enough to make two people look as different as possible. RevengeThe main characters work together.

How revenge can make you feel in the long run

Just like anything that comes with a dopamine-fueled high, revenge is followed by a crash, often in just a few minutes. “There’s a hangover that sets in quickly,” says Dr. Chester. “Your sweet little buzz or heightened positive affect fades quickly, but the negative emotions, which were also heightened when you hurt the person, will remain and are quite long-lasting.” The result? You end up feeling worse afterwards than before, as the burning anger of revenge gives way to other negative things like shame and guilt, he says. Cue: Drea’s depiction in the film of a knot in her chest that keeps getting tighter and tighter.

While you intuitively know this reality of revenge to be true, there are a few reasons why you might still feel compelled to take revenge in the face of injustice. One is what Dr. Chester calls the revenge reinforcement model, which is the same basic mechanism of all addictive behavior: the momentary pleasure of revenge is enough to entice you to achieve it, roughly the same way you could go there. go out and have a few drinks despite having had a terrible hangover from doing so the weekend before.

Another reason? You are act on impulse in response to provocation. “Anger tends to push us right into the present moment, creating this very weird form of mindfulness,” says Dr. Chester. In other words, you don’t think about how something will make you feel 10 years or even 10 hours from now, ignoring the potential fallout from your actions.

But perhaps the most basic reason you might err on the side of revenge is simply our protective nature as people. “Revenge is born out of a functional desire to keep others from taking advantage of us,” says Dr. Chester. “If we never retaliated against people who hurt us, then people could theoretically hurt us all the time.”

As a result, Dr. Chester says people rarely decide not to get revenge when provoked, even when they have personal evidence that revenge doesn’t make them feel better in the long run. And no spoilers Revengethe characters don’t necessarily learn from their actions either.

Even so, it’s worth pausing the next time you’re tempted to get revenge to assess how revenge will actually make you feel in the long run. “Although it’s normal to want revenge, it’s never a good idea to go after it from a psychological point of view,” says Dr Chester. “Revenge doesn’t free you from the act that provoked you in the first place. Instead, it cements it deeper, causing you to ruminate more about it, and opening you up to more suffering and consequences. And yes, that’s true even if a happy ending in Hollywood seemed well within your reach.

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