Revenge and Conflict: Social and Cognitive Aspects

  • Francesca GiardiniEmail author
  • Rosaria Conte
Part of the Computational Social Sciences book series (CSS)


Revenge can be conceptualized as an attempt to restore the power balance destroyed by an aggression. It can be risky and costly for the individuals, and it can become completely disruptive at the social and societal level. At the individual level, revenge implies the risk of a counterattack, either coming from the target or from his or her kin and relatives, and it is costly because of the effort it requires. At the social level, a likely and dangerous consequence of revenge is the emergence of feuds, with whole families and groups fighting against each other. Moreover, material resources can get wasted in the conflict, thus further increasing the costs of revenge. Even so, revenge is still part of our behavioral repertoire, humans take revenge continuously, both at a small and at a larger scale. How could have revenge survived if it is costly and dysfunctional? Why do humans still resort to revenge when reacting to a wrong suffered?

The aim of this chapter is to apply cognitive analysis in order to unveil the tension between a need for equity restoration and the related dangers, showing that revenge exploits other social mechanisms, like fairness and equity restoration. We will go through the motivations of an avenger, and we will bridge individual and social factors in order to understand the complex relationship between individuals’ motivations to take revenge and the constraints imposed by societies. We posit that revenge had to be restrained by societies in order to prevent conflicts, and this was done by limiting the contexts in which revenge may take place, thus transforming it into an institution in which revenge is regulated (e.g., Kanun in Albania), or promoting alternative ways of reacting, like punishment and sanction.


Revenge Cognitive analysis Retribution Psychological motives Social order Feud Social damage 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratory of Agent-based Social Simulation (LABSS), Institute of Cognitive Science and TechnologiesNational Research Council of ItalyRomeItaly

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