Cognitive systems for revenge and forgiveness

Michael McCullough, Robert Kurzban, Benjamin A. Tabak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

141 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Minimizing the costs that others impose upon oneself and upon those in whom one has a fitness stake, such as kin and allies, is a key adaptive problem for many organisms. Our ancestors regularly faced such adaptive problems (including homicide, bodily harm, theft, mate poaching, cuckoldry, reputational damage, sexual aggression, and the infliction of these costs on one's offspring, mates, coalition partners, or friends). One solution to this problem is to impose retaliatory costs on an aggressor so that the aggressor and other observers will lower their estimates of the net benefits to be gained from exploiting the retaliator in the future. We posit that humans have an evolved cognitive system that implements this strategy-deterrence-which we conceptualize as a revenge system. The revenge system produces a second adaptive problem: losing downstream gains from the individual on whom retaliatory costs have been imposed. We posit, consequently, a subsidiary computational system designed to restore particular relationships after cost-imposing interactions by inhibiting revenge and motivating behaviors that signal benevolence for the harmdoer. The operation of these systems depends on estimating the risk of future exploitation by the harmdoer and the expected future value of the relationship with the harmdoer. We review empirical evidence regarding the operation of these systems, discuss the causes of cultural and individual differences in their outputs, and sketch their computational architecture.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalBehavioral and Brain Sciences
Volume36
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - May 6 2013

Fingerprint

Forgiveness
retaliation
Costs and Cost Analysis
costs
Beneficence
Theft
Homicide
Aggression
Individuality
larceny
deterrence
fitness
allies
homicide
aggression
Revenge
Cognitive Systems
Costs
coalition
exploitation

Keywords

  • adaptationism
  • aggression
  • computation
  • conflict
  • cost/benefit analysis
  • evolution
  • evolutionary psychology
  • forgiveness
  • function
  • punishment
  • reconciliation
  • revenge
  • social psychology
  • social relationships
  • violence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Physiology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

Cite this

Cognitive systems for revenge and forgiveness. / McCullough, Michael; Kurzban, Robert; Tabak, Benjamin A.

In: Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Vol. 36, No. 1, 06.05.2013, p. 1-15.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

McCullough, Michael ; Kurzban, Robert ; Tabak, Benjamin A. / Cognitive systems for revenge and forgiveness. In: Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 2013 ; Vol. 36, No. 1. pp. 1-15.
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