Cognitive Systems for Revenge and Forgiveness

Department of Psychology, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL 33124-0751.
Behavioral and Brain Sciences (Impact Factor: 20.77). 12/2012; 36(1):1-15. DOI: 10.1017/S0140525X11002160
Source: PubMed


Minimizing the costs that others impose upon oneself and upon those in whom one has a fitness stake, such as kin and allies, is a key adaptive problem for many organisms. Our ancestors regularly faced such adaptive problems (including homicide, bodily harm, theft, mate poaching, cuckoldry, reputational damage, sexual aggression, and the infliction of these costs on one's offspring, mates, coalition partners, or friends). One solution to this problem is to impose retaliatory costs on an aggressor so that the aggressor and other observers will lower their estimates of the net benefits to be gained from exploiting the retaliator in the future. We posit that humans have an evolved cognitive system that implements this strategy - deterrence - which we conceptualize as a revenge system. The revenge system produces a second adaptive problem: losing downstream gains from the individual on whom retaliatory costs have been imposed. We posit, consequently, a subsidiary computational system designed to restore particular relationships after cost-imposing interactions by inhibiting revenge and motivating behaviors that signal benevolence for the harmdoer. The operation of these systems depends on estimating the risk of future exploitation by the harmdoer and the expected future value of the relationship with the harmdoer. We review empirical evidence regarding the operation of these systems, discuss the causes of cultural and individual differences in their outputs, and sketch their computational architecture.

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    • "Both ethnographic and evolutionary studies of revenge point toward adaptive behaviour. While studies of offender cultures see revenge as a proximate social adaptation to imminent social threats, evolutionary accounts imply that human social cognition may be 'hard-wired' to revenge potential as an adaptation to ancestral rather than present environments (Eisner, 2011: 475–476; McCullough et al., 2012; Westermarck, 1898). However, both traditions see the human potential for revenge as differentially triggered by environmental stimuli and differential life histories. "

    Acta Sociologica 10/2015; DOI:10.1177/0001699315607969 · 1.13 Impact Factor
    • "Forgiving strengthens employees' intrapersonal and relational resources. When managers forgive, motivations for revenge and avoidance give way to benevolent and prosocial motivations (McCullough et al., 2013), which foster creative performance (Grant & Berry, 2011). Prior research has linked forgiveness to leaders who make a genuine effort to get to know, understand, and support others in the organization (Fehr & Gelfand, 2012; Karremans, Van Lange, & Holland, 2005), and attend to employee growth and well-being (Liden, Wayne, Zhao, & Henderson, 2008). "

    The Leadership Quarterly 09/2015; DOI:10.1016/j.leaqua.2015.09.001 · 2.70 Impact Factor
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    • "4. Investor's forgiveness: a Cognition-Appraisal-Response (CAR) model " Revenge and forgiveness, we argue, have complementary biological functions: We posit that mechanisms for revenge are designed to deter harms, and that forgiveness mechanisms are designed to solve problems related to the preservation of valuable relationships despite the prior impositions of harm " . [McCullough, Kurzban, and Tabak, 2012: 2] Our proposed model depicted in Fig. 1 acknowledges the correlates of both relationship value and exploitation risk and, ultimately, links the investor's appraisals of expected relationship value and expected exploitation risk with the decision to forgive. This suggests the presence of a multi-stage model. "
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