How The Brain Stops Us From Taking Revenge

Despite what you might be thinking, your brain wants you to be civilised.

Ever thought of getting revenge only to take a step back?

Researchers have discovered an in-built mechanism in our brain that’s helping us to not act in revenge. But even more interesting is that the likelihood of someone acting in revenge is actually dictated by how active this part of the brain is.

Researchers from the University of Geneva in Switzerland developed an economic game in which participants were confronted with unfair behaviour from certain players.

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Through brain imaging, they observed the areas activated when players experienced anger and unfairness, and then observed the parts of the brain activated which suppressed acts of revenge.

The more active the prefrontal dorsolateral cortex (DLPFC) part of the brain is during provocation – the part that is commonly known to regulate emotion - the less likely the participant is to take revenge.

Until now, research around the origins of vengeful behaviour were based primarily on feelings of anger.

But now,  Olga Klimecki-Lenz, a researcher at UNIGE’s Swiss Center for Affective Science, was able to pin down the taking of revenge to a different part of the brain -- the prefrontal dorsolateral cortex (DLPFC).

"The Inequality game allowed us above all to identify the crucial role of the DLPFC, a zone which is key for the regulation of emotions and which is located at the front of the brain,” she said.

Researchers developed an economic game allowing them to see the parts of the brain activated during feelings of unfairness.

While on average researchers found participants took revenge on unfair players, participants with more DLPFC activity while being provoked were found to be less likely to punish the unfair player.  On the contrary, low DLPFC activity was associated with a more pronounced revenge on the unfair player.

“We observed that DLPFC is coordinated with the motor cortex that directs the hand that makes the choice of vengeful behavior or not. There is therefore a direct correlation between brain activity in DLPFC, known for emotional regulation, and behavioural choices,” Klimecki-Lenz said. 

Now researchers are saying that this zone of the brain could even be suppressed to potentially prevent people from acting in revenge.

"One can then wonder if an increase in the activity of DLPFC obtained through transmagnetic stimulation, would allow to decrease the acts of vengeance or even to suppress them”,  Klimecki-Lenz said.