Chair of Social Psychology

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Social and individual functions of revenge, punishment and retribution

When and why do people want to take revenge? What sparks revenge? Under which conditions can revenge taste “sweet”? And what do those acting out revenge hope to achieve?

These questions are relevant from a fundamental as well as an applied scientific perspective. Many of our findings from laboratory experiments and surveys suggest that revenge actually can taste “sweet”, meaning that it can fulfill a need for justice and provide emotional satisfaction, however only under one condition – if the transgressor signals that they understand why revenge was taken upon them.

We interpret these results as evidence that the motivation for revenge is to send a message to the offender, communicating the sentiment, ”you can´t treat me that way”.

In our current research, we investigate whether (and when) revenge can taste “sweet”, in conditions in which the revenge is not directed toward the original transgressor, but rather toward an innocent person who merely belongs to the same social group as the transgressor. Such forms of “displaced revenge” are a common feature of many intergroup conflicts and require a psychological explanation.

Selected Publications:

Gollwitzer, M., Braun, J., Funk, F., & Süssenbach, P. (2016). People as intuitive retaliators: Spontaneous and deliberate reactions to observed retaliation. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 7, 521-52.

Sjöström, A., & Gollwitzer, M. (2015). Displaced revenge: Can revenge be “sweet” if it aims at a different target? Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 56, 191-202.

Funk, F., McGeer, V., & Gollwitzer, M. (2014). Get the message: Punishment is satisfying if the transgressor responds to its communicative intent. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40, 986-997.

Gollwitzer, M., Skitka, L. J., Wisneski, D., Sjöström, A., Liberman, P., Nazir, S. J., & Bushman, B. J. (2014). Vicarious revenge and the death of Osama bin Laden. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40, 604-616.

Gollwitzer, M., & Bushman, B. J. (2012). Do victims of injustice punish to improve their mood? Social Psychology and Personality Science, 3(5), 572-580.

Gollwitzer, M., Meder, M., & Schmitt, M. (2011). What gives victims satisfaction when they seek revenge? European Journal of Social Psychology, 41, 364-374.

Gollwitzer, M., & Denzler, M. (2009). What makes revenge so sweet: Seeing the offender suffer or delivering a message? Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(4), 840-844.

Gollwitzer, M. (2009). Justice and revenge. In M. E. Oswald, S. Bieneck, & J. Hupfeld-Heinemann (Eds.), Social psychology of punishment of crime (pp. 137-156). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.



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