As you know, I have a strong interest in group identity and how feelings of group inclusion impact our thoughts and behavior. Usually, we are looking for ways to leverage someone’s group identity – the attributes of groups they feel part of such as their family, friends, religion, country, coworkers, etc. Sometimes, people use an outside group to differentiate themselves and their identity.
This recent study has a third way of looking at in-group/out-group identity resonance. If you don’t have access to the journal, it was written up in Scientific American here. In this research, they looked at vengeance, one of the most visceral and powerful emotions. But sometimes, we can’t exact revenge on the person who did us wrong. They are not accessible or too powerful. This study found that if you take your revenge on someone who is in that person’s group but not in your own, then you can feel a sort of displaced satisfaction. Perhaps not as good as direct revenge, but better than a more random target.
In the Hollywood movie version of revenge, our wronged hero justifiably vanquishes the villain. In real life, though, revenge is hardly ever so clear-cut. Aggrieved persons typically do not know, or cannot access, the specific individual who did them wrong. Instead a phenomenon occurs that psychologists call “displaced revenge,” where avengers target a proxy—someone akin to the original transgressor. A new study finds that displaced revenge is sweeter when the target seems to belong to the same group as the wrongdoer.
Another finding of the study is the clarity of the difference between the in-group and the out-group. This is a new concept for me, but they refer to the idea of an entitative group – one that is perceived as a real, tangible, group. Not just the unfortunate person who is on the same airplane (you know you’ve done this – taking your annoyance about a plane being delayed on the unfortunate passenger sitting next to you). The more you achieve a sense of “I’m one of these, but you are one of those, just like the nemesis who did me wrong,” the more you feel vindicated.
I don’t think of myself as a vengeful or vindictive person. But this idea definitely resonates with me. I can see the emotional link that would make it feel good to exact revenge on a person in your nemesis’ in-group. And the more entitative the group, the more clarity I would get from the link. And thereby the more satisfaction from the revenge. Another great example of self-delusion.
I don’t expect anyone rushing in to comment on being a vengeful person personally. I’m not sure the rest of us want to know anyway. But it would be great to share some stories. Or some related concepts similar to displaced revenge or entitativeness.
Image Credit: MicroAssist