The human instinct for revenge is universal, automatic, and immediate. It is one of the natural emotions that are embedded in our genetics before we can learn from our environment and those around us. It is commonly argued that the social factors that influence human behavior hold a primary place in the causation of vengeance, yet with the development of societies standards skewing away from violent acts and toward peaceful acceptance, it is impossible to assume complete liability for the social factors within human lives. Many Psychologists hold strict theories surrounding this topic that clash with one another in their own truths and it has remained an open field of debate today. Psychologist Albert Bandera is the founder of the social cognitive theory and intensely believes in his findings that the social world around human life is the leading reactant in the formula that produces passionate actions. Despite Albert Bandera’s belief in the social cognitive theory as the primary explanation of human behavior, internal factors have a larger responsibility in motivating vengeful actions because the human thirst for revenge is rooted within the emotional and cognitive components of human psychology.
While many psychologists believe social influences to be the primary cause of passionate acts such as revenge, there are components lacking that can only be explained through analysis of human cognition. The social cognitive theory relies on the acquirement and maintenance of behavior, while also considering the social environment in which individuals perform the behavior. Although environmental factors are important in understanding the explanation for human behavior, there are several limitations within this theory. From this theory, it is assumed that changes in the environment will automatically lead to changes in the person, when this may not always be true. By doing so, its principles focus heavily on the processes of learning and disregards biological tendencies that are the initial influence of behaviors, regardless of past experience and expectations. Cognitive factors play a large role in determining which environmental events will be observed, which meaning associated with them, whether they leave any lasting effects, the emotional impact and motivating power they have, and information they convey to be organized for future use. (Bandura, 1982). Other than through reference to past experience, this theory does not focus on emotion or motivation, and cannot be accepted as a proper explanation of human behavior.
The mind of the human is complex and is the central point of every signal that pulses through our bodies, inferring the desire for revenge to be the result of feelings of anger and resentment. To discover the activity that occurs in the brain when thoughts of revenge are imposed, researchers from the University of Geneva, Switzerland, conducted a study in which twenty-five people took part in an “inequality game” created by Olga Klimecki-Lenz to enforce economic interactions between two other subjects, one with friendly intent and the other meant to trigger feelings of injustice, which then translated to anger, before promoting an opportunity of revenge. The results displayed that the “DLPFC (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) is coordinated with the motor cortex that directs the hand that makes the choice of vengeful behavior or not.” (Olga Klimecki-Lenz). This study is the first to identify the role of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex as a concentrated area of the brain responsible for revenge. There is therefore a direct correlation between brain activity in DLPFC, known for emotional regulation, and behavioral choices. The DLPFC serves a more general role in emotion regulation, perhaps by reflecting the cognitive demand that is inherent to the regulation task (Golkar, 2012).
The principles of cognitive dissonance further provide responsibility for prompting the vengeful nature of human beings. These principles include three distinct phases; Attitudes contradicting other’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Distress of these contradictions trigger “unpleasant arousal” which is an “activation to reduce the unpleasant stimulation” through actions (Festinger and Carlsmith 1959). According to the Equity theory stating that “humans have a natural tendency to maintain equity in their social relationships”, individuals experience distress when they have been treated unfairly (Adams, 1965; Walster, & Berscheid, 1978). Revenge enables victims to reduce their suffering by repairing equity with the offender (Donnerstein & Hatfield, 1982). Comparably, Dutch Psychologist Nico Frijda (1994) observed that one of the most enraging aspects of being unjustly harmed is the acknowledgement that “he walks in pleasure and I in suffering” (Frijda). When there is a distortion of equilibrium among justice, humans have the temptation to correct their circumstances in order to find resolution in the cognitive dissonance they are facing. Another factor of cognitive dissonance is effort justification in which it specifies that the amount of effort one puts toward a goal does not equal the reward for the effort. Thus providing that revenge does not undo the harm, but it restores the balance of suffering as well as helps reestablish the balance of power between the victim and the wrongdoer (Frijda, 1994). Through vengeance, victims have the capability to restore their self-worth by showing they are not powerless (Bies & Tripp, 1998; Frijda, 1994). These components as well as many more are credited as the prompters of acts of passion that are common within the human life.
The human tendency to access heuristics further provides reason within the mind when debating whether or not to commit a vengeful action against an aggressor. Fast thinking is intuitive, automatic, and nearly impossible to switch off, causing thoughts of desire such as revenge to motivate such behavior. This can be attributed to the human reliance on the first option that satisfies certain conditions to be chosen to comply with that situation despite other possible options that may have better outcomes (Herbert Simon, 1956). According to a behavioral psychological research team at Harvard University, Humans have developed heuristics over millions of years. Since they save both cognitive energy and time, it is likely that they provided an evolutionary advantage to those who relied on them. Humans are lazy beings when it comes to resolving internal conflicts, thus we hurriedly make decisions, pass judgement, and solve our issues with the least amount of mental effort needed all so we can continue living our lives in equilibrium. When it comes to human emotions, anger and hate become much more accessible and we become overwhelmed by passionate feelings rather than taking the time to resolve these negative sensations toward the conflict that is imposed on us.
The roots of aggression offer a further understanding of the internal processes that promote acts of passion. Aggression is classified as any physical or verbal behavior intended to harm another individual. It has been hypothesized that frustration is one of many unpleasant experiences that can lead to aggression by creating negative feelings (Berkowitz, 1989). Through the cognitive neoassociation analysis, negative feelings stimulate thoughts, memories, and other reactions relevant to fight or flight responses. Thus, these aggressive behaviors such as revenge must be credited to the cognitive processes. In a study concerning the “priming affect” as it corresponds with planted anger, each participant is given the opportunity to create a solution for a problem and then receive a range of mild shocks in response to the helpfulness of their solution. The intent from these shocks, is to anger the participant and then expose them individually to an aggressive stimulus, such as an image of a gun, to attach a negative connotation to that stimulus. Afterwards, participants are given the option to return the shock back to the confederate whom they received the shocks from initially. The results showed that participants who were both angered and exposed to aggressive stimulus were considerably more aggressive than the control group. (Berkowitz & LePage, 1967). Provided through this study is the interaction effect that comes from the activation within human emotion as well as an outside factor provided by the “primer” to stimulate aggressive behavior.
Humans have always been psychologically linked with an urge to respond to heated emotions that encourage an embrace of revenge. Being creatures of revenge, there is no definite way to avoid these vengeful emotions that arise, which questions the progress that can be made to avoid actions of revenge to take place. Research surrounding the psychology of revenge presents the mechanics of its ascendance, yet there is very little in regard to recovery and avoidance of vengeful temptations. Attempting to suppress feelings of revenge is a risky strategy in which layering over negative emotions may never truly be overcome and may only result in a larger buildup of tension in the mentality of man. Thus, what can be done to avoid acting out of revenge and causing distress to others? These patterns of vengeful actions repeated throughout history may all be decreased if ways to engage with vengeful motivations in a more mindful way were found. However, with the continuous arguments surrounding the initial causes of revenge, humanity may never truly escape the concept of revenge and will only continue to submit to its sinful nature.