Motivation and emotion/Book/2022/Revenge motivation

Revenge motivation:
What motivates revenge and how does it affect us?


Case study

Jessica recently broke up with Sam at a party. Jessica said some awful things to him and humiliated him in front of their friends. Sam was heartbroken and went home early. Sam kept thinking about that night and he had built up anger and resentment towards Jessica. As some weeks passed by, he planned to get back at her and wanted to shame her in front of people just as she had done to him. Sam created a fake profile online and posted cruel rumours about her for everyone at school to see.

Revenge is motivated retaliation when a person is harmed (Schumann & Ross, 2010)[Rewrite to improve clarity]. It is retribution after the threat has long passed and that enables an act of vengeance. It is a tactful reaction to harm, so we can separate it from unsolicited aggression or self-defence. It is a complicated human behaviour that is still being understood in psychology today. Revenge is widespread in society and often comes with consequences (Jackson et al., 2019). Acts of violence can lead to jail. Revenge at work can lead to losing a job. Although the consequences are seemingly obvious, people still seek out revenge. This chapter focuses on what motivates revenge and how it affects us.

Focus questions:

  • What is motivates revenge?[grammar?]
  • What factors influence revenge?
  • How does revenge affect us?

What motivates revenge?Edit

The motivation for revenge derives from the satisfaction of bringing suffering to the other person who has done harm. Revenge is justified in a person’s mind when it is thought to be deserved. They think the maliciousness of the act is removed when they are motivated by moral indignation (Uniacke, 2000). Acts of revenge that cause significant harm are not perceived as wrong due to impaired judgement and self-control (Uniacke, 2000). There are motivational theories that explain revenge motivation.

Motivational theoriesEdit

[Provide more detail]

Attribution theoryEdit

Attribution theory can explain the question of why something happens, and it is either internally or externally attributed. In the situation of revenge, the harm that is done to the agent is the bad outcome (see Figure 1) (Reeve, 2017). The attributional search of the agent is to ask themselves why this happened to them which leads them to the decision of revenge. The optimistic style that follows revolves around redirecting the blame to others and being self-protecting. With internal attribution would be to blame oneself[grammar?], however revenge faults the other person and falls under external attribution. External attribution of revenge are the harmful behaviours that attack the person who is to blame for the harm that was done (Reeve, 2017)[Rewrite to improve clarity].

Case study

Sam would question why this had happen to him when thinking back to the night of the party. He would externally attribute the blame on Jessica and plan his revenge.

Psychoanalytic and dual-instinct theoryEdit

Freud believed humans have hostile nature with violent feelings that could build up over time that would lead to an act such as revenge[grammar?][factual?]. After the act of revenge is completed, the equilibrium would be restored (Grobbink et al., 2014). Under psychoanalytic theory, Freud’s dual instinct theory would describe revenge as a part of death instincts also known as thanatos (Reeve, 2017). When aggression was focused on others, it could manifest itself into acts of revenge. The drive for instinct in humans including the aggression gave energy to motivate behaviour. It is also noted that it is not impulsive, as revenge satisfies an established aim. Personality and defence mechanisms would also predict the ego leading the person into aggressive energy for revenge (Reeve, 2017).

Factors for revengeEdit

[Provide more detail]

Appraisal and perceptionEdit

Appraisal from people about the harm done is a predictor for revenge (Jackson et al., 2019). Revenge is known to be a reaction to something that is harmful and against the norm (Carlsmith et al., 2002). When something is perceived as severely damaging and offensive to the moral code, it can result in revenge. Perception in appraisals is also important in determining the action for revenge (Jackson et al., 2019). If harm is perceived as an intention, it will be judged as more morally wrong than unintentional behaviour (Ames & Fiske, 2013).

Anger and personalityEdit

Anger is another predictor for revenge. The sense of doing the right thing that is linked to combating injustices with built up anger is resulted in revenge (Jackson et al., 2019)[grammar?]. Personalities that are more likely to be angry such as high levels of neuroticism and narcissism, are more likely to take revenge[factual?]. Narcissists tend to act with revenge after social rejection because they feel angry when not met with respect, they were expecting (Twenge & Campbell, 2003).

How does revenge affect us?Edit

Research in neuroscience shows that [missing something?] dorsal striatum is activated when around acts or thoughts about revenge (Jackson et al., 2019). The strongest effect is shown in people who self-report that they enjoy hurting others and agents who punish people for their wrongdoing (Chester, 2017). The pleasure of revenge is short-lived and followed by negative affect[factual?]. Revenge is proven to be bittersweet, as it brings both negative and positive feelings (Jackson et al., 2019).

Case study

Sam feels satisfaction when he posts rumours about Jessica for revenge. However, his triumph is cut-short when he starts to feel bad about rapid spread of rumours and how he could get in trouble. Soon, the teachers are notified about it as a cyber bullying case and Sam is found as the culprit. Sam faces the consequences and is suspended from school.


Test your knowledge on revenge motivation:

1 Revenge can have severe consequences.


2 Revenge only brings positive feelings.



Revenge is motivated retaliation acted out in anger and a means to bring harm to a person. Attribution theory attempts to explain the motivation behind revenge through external attribution and psychoanalytic theory focuses on natural instincts of revenge. There are different factors that influence revenge such as appraisal, perception, anger, and personality. Revenge is not the victory that we want to achieve in the end, due to the consequences and negative feelings that follow it.

See alsoEdit


Ames, D., & Fiske, S. (2013). Intentional Harms Are Worse, Even When They’re Not. Psychological Science, 24(9), 1755-1762.

Carlsmith, K., Darley, J., & Robinson, P. (2002). Why do we punish? Deterrence and just deserts as motives for punishment. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 83(2), 284-299.

Chester, D. (2017). The Role of Positive Affect in Aggression. Current Directions In Psychological Science, 26(4), 366-370.

Grobbink, L., Derksen, J., & van Marle, H. (2014). Revenge. International Journal Of Offender Therapy And Comparative Criminology, 59(8), 892-907.

Jackson, J., Choi, V., & Gelfand, M. (2019). Revenge: A Multilevel Review and Synthesis. Annual Review Of Psychology, 70(1), 319-345.

Reeve, J. (2017). Understanding Motivation and Emotion (7th ed.). John Wiley & Sons.

Schumann, K., & Ross, M. (2010). The Benefits, Costs, and Paradox of Revenge. Social And Personality Psychology Compass, 4(12), 1193-1205.

Twenge, J., & Campbell, W. (2003). “Isn’t It Fun to Get the Respect That We’re Going to Deserve?” Narcissism, Social Rejection, and Aggression. Personality And Social Psychology Bulletin, 29(2), 261-272.

Uniacke, S. (2000). Why Is Revenge Wrong?. The Journal Of Value Inquiry, (34), 61–69.

External linksEdit