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Why We Enjoy Revenge Stories Much More Than Stories About Forgiveness

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Feb 26, 2020

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Image Credit: Kill Bill (2003)

There is something deeply satisfying about watching Uma Thurman chop up a bunch of bad guys who wronged her in the Kill Bill series, or to watch Keanu Reeves just shoot stuff up in the John Wick series. Revenge is known to have wonderful mood-enhancing abilities and is a fantastic adrenaline rush. While we’re all aware forgiveness is the right thing to do, who’d want to see someone turn the other cheek anyway?

Not too many, according to research published in Communication Research journal. When it comes to entertainment, people find depictions of revenge a lot more enjoyable than depictions of forgiveness, even though they find forgiveness more meaningful.

“We like stories in which the wrongdoers are punished and when they get more punishment than they deserve, we find it fun,” Matthew Grizzard, lead author of the study and assistant professor of communication at The Ohio State University, said in a statement. He added, “Still, people appreciate stories of forgiveness the most, even if they don’t find them to be quite as fun.”


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Portrayals of Female Revenge in Pop Culture Simply Mirror Toxic Male Violence


The study involved 200 individuals responding to 15 reactions a victim of a crime could potentially have towards the perpetrator — divided equally into forgiveness, suitable punishment, and revenge. Researchers logged reactions to each of these narratives, and the time it took for the individuals to respond to the narratives.

An example of the narrative was — a person stole $50 from a co-worker. Of the three possible responses, one involved the victim buying coffee for the thief (forgiveness), the second involved stealing a $50 bottle of whiskey from the thief (suitable punishment), and the third involved the victim stealing his money back and downloading pornography onto the thief’s work computer.

Researchers discovered that people responded a lot quicker when punishment was suitable; forgiveness or revenge took longer to figure out. They also discovered that participants found revenge scenarios enjoyable, and forgiveness scenarios meaningful but also the least enjoyable to watch. However, participants appreciated the stories about forgiveness more. Researchers believe that participants paused before deciding upon forgiveness scenarios to reflect upon their decision, and paused before the revenge scenarios to savor the extra punishment they were about to choose.

Grizzard suggests that fair retribution is the intuitive moral standard we default to, and said, “… seeing a lack of punishment requires a level of deliberation that doesn’t come to us naturally. We can appreciate it, even if it doesn’t seem particularly enjoyable.”

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Written By Aditi Murti

Aditi Murti is the senior culture writer at The Swaddle.  Write to her using aditi@theswaddle.com, or find her on social media @aditimurti.

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