ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2017, Vol. 49 ›› Issue (2): 241-252.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2017.00241

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Turn the other cheek vs. a tooth: The reducing effects of forgiveness and revenge on anger

CHEN Xiao1; GAO Xin1,2; ZHOU Hui3   

  1. (1 School of Education, Beijing Normal University Zhuhai Campus, Zhuhai 519087, China) (2 Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University, Nijmegen, 6500HE, The Netherlands) (3 Department of Psychology, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou 510275, China)
  • Received:2016-03-10 Published:2017-02-25 Online:2017-02-25
  • Contact: CHEN Xiao, E-mail:


Forgiveness and revenge are two common strategies for coping with offence. Previous research finds that forgiveness is positively associated with positive psychological outcomes, such as positive affect, life satisfaction and happiness, while negatively associated with negative psychological outcomes, such as negative affect, anxiety and depression. On the other hand, the outcomes of revenge are a bit controversial. Some researchers believe revenge has an adaptive function, such as restoring the equilibrium between victim and offender. But more research reveals that revenge has a dark side. Individuals with a penchant for revenge have a higher level of negative affect and depression and a lower level of life satisfaction. They also tend to have more aggressive behavior. Although most psychological therapists and researchers tend to view forgiveness and revenge as two opposite strategies, there is no empirical research comparing the different effects of these two strategies. Thus, in the present study, three experiments were designed to examine the reducing effects of forgiveness and revenge on anger. Experiment 1 examined effect of anger reduction after priming forgiveness or revenge. Participants were assigned randomly to two conditions: forgiveness priming or revenge priming. They read a hypothetical scenario describing paper plagiary in a college classroom (the offender plagiarized the victim’s paper and handed it to the teacher without notification and the victim proved that he/she was innocent finally). Participants in the forgiveness condition read that the victim forgave the plagiarist while those in the revenge condition read that the victim carried out revenge by asking the professor to punish the plagiarist severely. All participants were asked to imagine this story happening to them and rated the level their anger and positive and negative emotion. Participants under the forgiveness condition reported a lower level of anger than those under revenge condition. They also had a lower level of negative affect. But both conditions did not differ on positive affect. Experiment 2 was designed to replicate the findings of experiment 1. Furthermore, intentions of the offensive behavior were also considered in experiment 2. The experiment procedure was similar to experiment 1. Participants read intentional (similar to experiment 1) or unintentional offence scenarios (the offender damaged the victim’s gift unintentionally) followed by forgiveness or revenge. Regardless of the intentions of offensive behavior, participants under forgiveness condition reported a lower level of anger than those under revenge condition again. They also reported a lower level of negative affect. Those who read the intentional offence scenarios also reported a higher level of anger. Furthermore, participants who read the intentional offence scenario did not differ on positive affect whether followed by forgiveness or revenge. But those who read the unintentional scenario followed by forgiveness reported higher level of positive affect than those read the unintentional scenario followed by revenge. Experiment 3 examined the direct anger reduction of forgiveness and revenge. After reading the scenario similar to experiment 1, participants were assigned randomly to forgiveness or revenge conditions. They were asked to forgive or revenge the offender and wrote down how to forgive/revenge, how they felt during forgiving/ revenging and the reasons of forgiving/revenging. They rated the anger before and after forgiving/ revenging. Results revealed that although both strategies could reduce anger effectively, the forgiveness strategy did a much better job on reducing anger than the revenge. The findings of the present study implied that after an offence, forgiveness and revenge both could reduce anger, but forgiveness did a better job.

Key words: forgiveness, revenge, anger