When someone wrongs us, or betrays us, often we feel like we should “get back at them”. This desire for revenge can be a consequence of anger – but what actually happens in our brain when we feel like lashing out at someone?
In a study published in Scientific Reports in July, researchers at the University of Geneva, Switzerland developed a game in which participants are confronted with fair behaviour from one player and unfair provocations from another player. With brain imaging, their goal was to observe which areas were activated when they felt anger and experienced unfairness.
In the second phase of the study, researchers gave participants the opportunity to take revenge. Therefore, by comparing the two images, they could see which areas of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex that are related to revenge suppression.
Interestingly, when there was more activation in the first phase of the study, participants were less likely to seek revenge. So, when there is more revenge-suppression behaviour (unconsciously or consciously) taking place in the brain, we are less likely to want to get back at someone who angered us.
The exciting part of this research is that until now, the only way anger was able to be examined was through past experiences and recalled memories – which are not always accurate – or in the interpretation of angry faces in photographs.
Specifically, when looking at the images, they were able to observe activity in the superior temporal lobe and the amygdala – which is known for its role in fear and emotion – when participants looked at the photo of the unfair player. Further, these areas correlated with feelings of anger, so the higher the anger reported, the stronger the brain activity.
Although only 25 people participated in this game, it does aide in the commencement of a new technique for researching anger and revenge. The researchers state that the game helped them see that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, an area that is key for the regulation of emotions, played a crucial role in the suppression of revenge. This information sparks the thought that we might be able to control our own desire for vengeance or revenge by simply stimulating this area of the brain.
“One can then wonder if an increase in the activity of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex obtained through transmagnetic stimulation, would allow to decrease the acts of vengeance or even to suppress them.” – Olga Klimecki-Lenz