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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    • "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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    • "Moreover, sharing equally with excluders is likely to result from a non-strategic prosocial motivation, because decisions in the Dictator Game were not confounded by strategic considerations to ultimately maximize personal gains and the amount of money participants gave to the excluders could not be influenced by the excluders (e.g. through rejection or punishment). This, in combination with the positive relationship with perspective-taking, suggests that sharing equally with the excluders is a prosocial tendency, which is likely to reflect an attempt to affiliate with the excluders (McCullough et al., 1997; Molden and Maner, 2013). "
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    • "Although punishing is presumably easier for a dominant than for a subordinate individual (e.g., Tebbich et al., 1996; McFarland & Majolo, 2011), in principle punishment could occur in any direction. McCullough et al. (2013) suggested aggressive behaviour by dominant individuals could be considered as an example of uncooperative behaviour (absence of tolerance; see below for further discussion). One may therefore ask whether subordinate group members use retaliatory aggression as a way of enforcing greater levels of tolerance by dominants. "
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