Evidence based revenge

July 11th, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, irrationality research, revenge | 41 Comments »

Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 11th July 2009

This week I have attempted to engage in meaningful disputes with morons who have misled their readers using untrue facts. I will rise above it, because I am a nice guy. More importantly, I don’t want to end up being diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Embitterment Disorder, the new mental health problem being debated at the American Psychiatric Association conference.

Bitterness is a response that endures destructively, argues Dr Michael Linden, driving people to ruminate endlessly, and seeth for revenge, which itself is no cure. It is a psychiatric problem. It requires diagnosis and treatment.

Now there are two important and separate issues here. The first is what a diagnosis means, and whether it does good or harm.

Regular readers with be familiar with the intellectual land-grab of “medicalisation”. Sometimes it’s about transforming a subjective moral objection into an objective, sciencey problem, as we saw with homosexuality and psychiatry. Sometimes it’s about reframing a problem to sell a solution: drug companies foster a belief that depression is down to serotonin, even though the evidence is hugely contradictory, to a public eager for simple, molecular answers. Bad school performance is related to omega-3, imply the supplement peddlers: so buy an omega-3 fish oil pill. Clomicalm, say the adverts, is “the first medication approved for the treatment of separation anxiety in dogs”.

Sometimes a new diagnosis about reassuring people in distress that they are not alone, and that others have experienced the same problems. Sometimes it’s about expanding your professional remit. Sometimes it’s a practical tool to offer practical help in a culture that foolishly requires medical labels to take anything seriously. Sometimes a diagnosis can be disempowering, and encourage us to abrogate responsibility.

But even if we think that diagnoses are a blunt and dubious tool, there still remains an important question: can science offer any practical help and insight, in our pursuit of an evidence based life? Put very simply, if we desire it, does revenge work?

People certainly believe in it, from modern thrillers such as Hamlet and Moby Dick, to classics like Kill Bill and Death Wish I-V. As Nietzsche said, “to witness suffering does one good, to inflict it even more so”. But while there is a huge literature on punishment, most of it is either dreary philosophising on the justification, or psychology research into the consequences of receiving it. People haven’t looked so much at our more important question: the pleasurable consequences for the avenger.

Kevin Carlsmith, Timothy Wilson, and Daniel Gilbert from Colgate, Virginia and Harvard universities report the first useful experiment on this subject in a recent paper from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. You should be wary of over-extrapolating from one idealised study, but here are the details.

They took 48 students and got them all to play a game for money: players could earn cash if they cooperated, but a player who did not cooperate could make more money, at the other players’ expense, as a “free rider”, by appearing to cooperate, and then welching on a deal at the last minute.

The game, of course, was staged. The other players were computer algorithms (although most students didn’t notice), and they were programmed to be nasty: on several trials, one of the players would warmly encourage the others to cooperate, coming over all friendly, but then, at the last minute, turn on their fellow players, making more money for themselves, and robbing the students of both their reward and their peace of mind.

Some of the students were then offered the opportunity to punish the person who had ripped them off, at cost to themselves: for every 5c they spent, 15c would be confiscated from the free rider.

Asked how they would feel about punishing their adversaries, students said they thought it would make them feel better. They were wrong. The participants who were offered – and took – the opportunity to exact revenge actually felt worse afterwards than the ones who had no such opportunity.

It may be that by taking revenge, we prolong our ruminations, and allow a tedious experience to drag us down further. Perhaps we are always bad at predicting our own future emotional states. In any case, if the results of this experiment stand, turning the other cheek has an element of selfishness to it. And if you are ever forced into an act of revenge, you can comfort yourself with the thought that this is a selfless act.

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41 Responses

  1. TP said,

    July 11, 2009 at 1:25 am

    I know this is anecdotal evidence, but many of my patients have developed this sort of obsessive rumination. They are quite capable of recognising the damage to their own health, welfare and frequently their marriages, and the futility of their obsession. Their high levels of stress prevent them from doing anything effective about the target of their obsession, and yet they are unable to let go of the idea. In many cases, cognitive behavioural therapy is ineffective. They seem incapable of forgiveness, and endlessly seek vindication.

    The concept of the “idee fixe” is an old one, and does not require an additional diagnostic category for embitterment.

    This is a common occurence in psychology. First, you describe a “new” syndrome, often as part of your doctoral thesis. When enough people have said “that’s me!” or “that’s just like someone I know!”, and you’ve had a few interviews, then you release the book.
    Finally you announce the therapy, set up the web site and start selling trainng for therapists, CDs and self-help manuals, and pay off your mortgage.

    Sound familiar?

  2. kliddle said,

    July 11, 2009 at 1:40 am

    “It may be that by taking revenge, we prolong our ruminations”

    I think it’s possibly more likly that the act of punishing the free loader means that we assign more importance to their cheating. Thus cognitive dissonance engages when given the opportunity to punish them. In order to justify the act of punishment the participants must make the original act of cheating seem more salient thus when they do punish folks the punishment then pales in comparison with the offence.

    IIRC there are studies about this about partners taking revenge on one another.

  3. jackalopemonger said,

    July 11, 2009 at 2:29 am

    “from modern thrillers such as Hamlet and Moby Dick, to classics like Kill Bill and Death Wish I-V”

    Scratch that, reverse it. Unless it was a joke, in which case I’m just a humorless oaf.

  4. drunkenoaf said,

    July 11, 2009 at 8:49 am

    Hey, you could turn that into a username…

  5. humourless-oaf said,

    July 11, 2009 at 10:02 am

    It’s true 🙂

  6. Michael Gray said,

    July 11, 2009 at 10:04 am

    More grist for my “Psychiatry is total Bollocks” mill.

  7. ayupmeduck said,

    July 11, 2009 at 10:46 am

    I think revenge is better understood in the context of game theory. Revenge is not a intended to be taken, but the fear that it could be taken keeps the participants more honest. There’s been a lot of good psychology research done on this – though I couldn’t point you to it right now without doing some digging. And I seem to remember that Steven Pinker has a good section on this in “How the Mind works”.

  8. SteveGJ said,

    July 11, 2009 at 11:53 am

    Not being able to read the full study, I wonder about how reliably the conclusion can be drawn at this stage. Ben’s wording implies that only some of those offered revenge took that option. As a self-selecting group, then they may be pre-determined to take being “cheated on” worse than those not inclined to take the revenge option so would just feel worse whatever happened. Note, I’m not saying that definitely is the explanation – just how was it eliminated as a possibility.

    It might be that comparing the outcomes of the two groups (those who were given the option, and those who weren’t) might give a clue as to whether there is a statistical difference between the two, but we don’t have that information. Unfortunately with so few people in this study, some of these sub-groups could be rather small. In fact it would nbe interesting to know how many sub-groups were compared in this study (I can clearly see four sub-group comparisons that can be made, and Ben’s words give us just one of those).

    As it is, it sounds a bit like a comfortable parable (revenge makes you bitter) rather than a fully robust conclusion. A bit like the Hawthorne experiment – now I read up about what was actually done, rather than the stuff given out on pretty well every management course under the sun, then it would seem that the “standard” version of it might be true, but that the conclusion drawn was really justified by the robustness of the experiment.

    There may be more than this, but I am especially wary of psychological studies, simply because the subject matter is so tricky.

  9. SteveGJ said,

    July 11, 2009 at 11:55 am

    I meant “was not really justified” on the subject of the Hawthorne experiment.

  10. kim said,

    July 11, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    jackalopemonger: well, what do you think? Do you think Ben was making a joke or he genuinely got mixed up? Which is more likely?

  11. The Goldfish said,

    July 11, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    It’s long been a cliche in criminal psychology that the victim may forgive the perpetrator but the perpetrator won’t forgive the victim. According to our intuition, it is pretty amazing when a victim of violent crime actually gets to the point of forgiving their attacker. But in many ways, they have less psychological investment in continued resentment than the criminal, who is likely to continue to insist that the victim provoked or deserved their suffering in some way. Otherwise they’d have to acknowledge their own monstrosity.

    I’d say forgiveness is a pretty good revenge. Not only is it good for your soul (and your mental health), but if someone offends you in some way, than getting back at them is only likely to make them feel justified about what they did to you.

  12. j_g said,

    July 11, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    there’s been a lot of work on punishment the last couple of years in experimental economics, mainly in so-called public good games (which, from the description, I guess was used here as well). it’s usually operationalised by allowing participants, after having played a public good game, to take away some of the earnings of other participants at a small cost to themselves. even though it is (purely economically seen) irrational to do so – it costs you money – people do seem to punish each other and in the long run it appears to lead to an increase in cooperative behaviour. this is a great example of some inter-cultural evidence – www.nottingham.ac.uk/~lezsg1/science.htm – showing that punishing free-riders seems to be a general, worldwide phenomenon but that in some societies, for instance athens and riyaadh, people who *contribute* to the good are also punished.

  13. Sili said,

    July 11, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    Has there been no psychological followup on the South African “Truth and Reconsiliation Panels”? One’d think that’d give good data on forgiveness.

    More anecdotes: despite all I know from reading Ben and others about anti-depressants they did manage to make me feel better. So even if it’s a placeboeffect it’s strong enough to override my suspicion that it’s a placebo.

    I can certainly recognise the unhealthiness of not forgiving – that is one the things my psychologist was most keen to get me to work on. Without luck – I too am too invested in my despite. I also brood over stuff that I cannot change, and that too is not good for me.

    And yet I still claim to have mastered my depression.

  14. peterd102 said,

    July 12, 2009 at 10:58 am

    When trying to get revenge, maybe the bitter feeling afterwards is what you gave up to get it, and the context of your decision. Here the participants had to give up money, and preform an act out of pure spite, when you knew that his cource of action could be taken. In other cases getting revenge can be more of a feeling of beating another person, and lower that feeling of hopelessness you get when your beaten. Admittedly my experiences are from hours of gaming against others, rather than say competitive business for instance, but I have sought revenge on WoW like anyone else might do in real life, it becomes an all prevailing goal despite any previous one. Ive heard of people who have travelled miles past their own house just to overtake someone back. It would be interesting to see how strong an emotion like revenge can be, how far will people go? How big do the rewards need to be if you ignored it, or how trivial does the matter have to be for you to dismiss it?

  15. Bill Walton said,

    July 12, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    While your column is interesting, it is inappropriate and offensive to use the term ‘moron’ as you did. It is a long outdated legislative term. Such use is misguided because it does not describe the people you are referring to .. and is offensive to people with learning disabilities at the same time.

  16. Tessa K said,

    July 12, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    I’m wondering what the difference is between revenge and punishment as people have been using them interchangeably above. Criminals and children are punished. Revenge (and the allied idea of the vendetta) is often cast in a more negative light. There is clearly a difference in some circumstances but not always. Michael Portillo’s programme about finding a more humane way to execute criminals in the US revealed that what a lot of pro-death penalty people wanted was purely revenge.

    Perhaps the reason revenge is ultimately unsatisfying is that is doesn’t fix the situation that inspired the need to do it; you still have to deal with the consequences of that – emotional or practical.

    And if, as the saying goes, revenge is a dish best eaten cold, that does mean holding on to the negative feelings for a long time.

  17. Alexa said,

    July 13, 2009 at 7:32 am

    Ben I am a fan of your blog but I was disappointed to see you put SSRI anti-depressants in the same bucket as fish oil and dog anti-depressants. Just because we don’t know HOW SSRIs work, doesn’t mean they do not work. They do work, despite the ever-present bias against publishing null results, and they help thousands of people get through their daily life. I feel you’ve made a rare stray down a path that is dangerous to public health, something for which you constantly ridicule others.

  18. muscleman said,

    July 13, 2009 at 9:55 am


    The point about the SSRI’s and the Serotonin hypothesis is that the sold story of how they work is not likely to be the whole truth and nothing but the truth. For eg we know that in rodents long term SSRI administration causes new neurons to be be generated. This possibly explains why short term SSRI use is no better than placebo (erroneously jumped on by some as ‘SSRIs are no better than placebo’ when clearly they can help when used long term.

    In the favour of the hypothesis is the research which shows that people with short serotonin receptor genes are more prone to depression when presented with strong adverse life events, a death in the family, divorce etc. So while the story that depression is caused by low serotonin levels and this pill will pick them up is likely wrong or at least highly simplified that does not mean there is not a story with depression and serotonin. Anyway the brain in particular and the body in general is too complex for the sort of specificity claimed, no drug is that clean and it would not be the first time that a ‘side effect’ was discovered to be a drug’s main route of action.

  19. petrossa said,

    July 13, 2009 at 10:54 am

    Being married to someone who suffers from permanent revenge idealization, I find it wholly acceptable to give it a psychiatric indication such as Post-Traumatic Embitterment Disorder.
    It’s very like PTSD, but with endless obsessive rumination on the object of their purposed vengeance to the point where even successful revenge doesn’t offer any remedy.
    It eats away at the daily pleasures, which always are superimposed on the underlying feeling of hate.

    It’s a serious, life changing affliction no matter the name

  20. theonlyrick said,

    July 13, 2009 at 11:22 am

    Henry Rollins said a useful phrase about revenge on mulling over ‘bad things’: “If someone gives you a big pile of sh1t, you can shovel it, or you can just walk away.”

  21. healthpain said,

    July 13, 2009 at 6:12 pm

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    “Cancer is a disease that causes fear and distress to listen, but if you have cancer can be cured is much higher than what most people think, especially if detected early. Cancer is one of the most deadly diseases in the world today and tragically unfolded. The snuff has many carcinogens have been detected in smoke snuff, consumption also increases the frequency of cardiovascular diseases. There are several forms of cancer that can affect our body such as breast cancer, liver cancer, prostate cancer, colorectal, ovarian cancer, kidney cancer, etc.., In any form cancer is curable, but we must make our medical checkups for early detection. ”
    There are several medicines that counter the disease as Lortab, Lorcet, Oxycontin, Percocet, opioids to help allay the pain of this disease and its side effects but can be dangerous if not administered know are the most used in the world.
    So we hope that people take account of what is listed here because it is important to know that harms our bodies and this disease can take anyone, it is best to avoid taking care in a timely manner and avoid the snuff, the drinks, etc, etc.

  22. mikewhit said,

    July 13, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    @ Tessa K:
    Note that in, “as the saying goes, revenge is a dish best eaten cold” the saying you refer to is a Klingon one ! and I think it’s “served” rather than “eaten” – though you’d have to check the appropriate Star Trek NG episode. Probably spoken by Worf.

  23. mikewhit said,

    July 13, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    On the subject of “embitterment” I am remind of what I have seen referred to as “malicious (spouse/)mother syndrome” in which the parent awarded care of the children following a divorce or separation continues the feud by making things as hard as possible for the other partner to maintain a relationship with the children.

    I have seen some examples of this in a couple of my acquaintances, in both these cases it was the mother making things hard (changing day of visit at short notice, notifying court that child had suffered injury while in partner’s care – i.e. had fallen off bike – resulting in temporary withdrawal of contact and necessity for more court time at great expense … she was on Legal Aid of course, so no skin off her nose).

    It would appear on the evidence to be some kind of psychological condition, albeit one unrecognised by the courts when dealing with the fallout.

    My impression is that this situation should be detected by the professional parties involved and some kind of mandatory psychological intervention applied to avoid things deteriorating seriously as I have seen happen.

  24. Paul Carter said,

    July 14, 2009 at 11:19 am


    Oh the ignorance of geeks! There are better sources of information than Star Trek (and better than Wikipedia too, though even that would tell you that “revenge is a dish best served/eaten cold” was not originally made up for the Klingons).

    Disclaimer: I am a linguist who finds so much of interest in real languages that I just can’t get why people can be so obsessed with the bloody Klingons. It’s only a story, you know.

  25. KevinP said,

    July 14, 2009 at 11:32 am

    This is an interesting topic. I could say I encounter the opportunity to take revenge on an almost daily basis in online multiplayer computer games. The best example is Counterstrike: Source. The basic idea of the game is playing on a small landscape or a floor of an office building as two teams: terrorists and counterterrorists. Both are armed with various weapons. When one team is wiped out by the other that team wins. When you’re killed you wait for the next round which could be a five minutes. Teamwork is key. You can also be shot by your own team mates if you are inaccurate, which of course is annoying because you can’t play for a few minutes.

    The interesting part is that if you’re killed (accidently or not) by your own team member you can exact revenge by picking various options from a long menu of punishments. They include instant kill, blind the player, turn the player into a ticking bomb, etc. You can also forgive them for doing it. Punishing them didn’t make you feel that much better generally especially if they said sorry (over ingame chat) but if you did forgive them it actually made you feel surprisingly good. Wierd.

  26. David Mingay said,

    July 14, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    @Paul Carter:
    Damn! You mean it wasn’t Master Po who said: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves”?

  27. emen said,

    July 14, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    Sili, I agree with you, this SSRI antidepressant debate is more complex than what some people simply suggest.

    It seems that there has been some research which showed that in mild depression, antidepressants are not significantly better than placebo. They are better, but not much. These data were hidden for a while, as well as some data about side-effects and withdrawal symptoms. That is, of course, pretty bad behaviour.
    But even as placebo, they can work brilliantly.

    But then the question is: what do you do to help someone with depression instead of prescribing SSRIs? Psychotherapy? About 2 years on the waiting list. Placebo? You are not allowed. You just tell them you can’t help them and tell them to go home and start doing exercises? Or give them antidepressants and chances are they will feel better in a few weeks’ time because of the placebo effect? Or who knows, maybe if you are a VERY good doctor and you have time, you can reaasure patients that they are not seriously depressed and that alone will make them feel better?

    What is “mild” depression anyway? I once felt very tired and unwell all winter and went to see the GP about it. He put the depression questionnaire in front of me, it took me 30 seconds to fill it in. There were questions about my sleep, whether I had lost interest in things I normally enjoy, did I feel that I was letting my family down etc.
    At the end, he quickly added up the “agree” answers WITHOUT EVEN LOOKING AT WHAT THE QUESTIONS WERE, told me he can see signs of endogenous depression and was already printing the prescription for an SSRI. I told him I didn’t want to take tablets as I was only very tired rather than depressed, and that was the end of it.

    If this is how depression is normally diagnosed then I’m not surprised it is not clear who is depressed and who isn’t, or who is “midly” depressed and who is severely depressed.

  28. phyzx said,

    July 14, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    I think this is a moral question , confused with personal behaviour . The 4 primary social morals , 1) loyalty to kin , 2) a sense of fair play , 3) the shunning of theives , and 4) the punishment of cheats , gives us the need to respond too the innapropriate behaviour of another , however the means with which to address the problem are also wrong . Causing conflict and guilt in themselves . I would suggest that allowing the group ( i know they are vitrtual players ) too decide on the correct punishment , this way is better because no individual is left feeling reponsible for the punishment of another , and the moral need for a punishment is met . Thus allowing the individuals to feel good about it , and society to feel that it is working . Revnge is just as bad as any other innapropriate behaviour and should be punished aswell ( hense the ” not feeling good about it ” ). In my opinion a poorly conducted experiment , that shows a lack of understanding of the concepts at work , and not flexible enough to allow the ” truth ” to come out .
    ( with the proviso that , ” I know nothing ” 🙂
    On the ssri issue , I would like to say , they dont work , are rather dangerous with lots of nasty side effects , and are possibly stopping something much better being used . ( Ive tried them an there orrible )

  29. lasker said,

    July 14, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    Try very hard not to ruminate endlessly, and seethe for revenge on your GP. He did not invent the questionnaire. It was invented by a psychiatrist like Ben.
    It was foisted upon him by the Department of health via his PCT in case he could not recognise a depressed patient. Of course he doesn’t have to use it – if he doesn’t want to get paid.
    But let me put your mind thoroughly to rest. He does know what the questions are as when repeated as a mantra they make a pleasant divesion from the endless rumination and the seething.

  30. Kapitano said,

    July 15, 2009 at 4:53 am

    I suspect the motive behind revenge is a kind of “re-balancing”. If I believe you’ve done me harm, I cause you harm to “cancel out” the harm you did me.

    But it never works, because the revenge I take on you has a specific time, whereas the original hurt (real or imagined) has a timeless quality.

    Revenge makes me feel better for a while, but only a while. After that, I need to rebalance again, because the revenge happens only once while the original hurt is renewed every time I think about it.

  31. Tessa K said,

    July 15, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    It is sometimes said that the saying came from Les Liaisons Dangereuses but doesn’t: ‘La vengeance est un plat qui se mange froid’. It’s been around a long time in French, though. French/Klingons – pretty much the same thing.

    The point that mikewhit makes about divorced mothers endlessly punishing the spouse by using the children is an interesting one that I have seen played out. I guess it’s some primitive response to the removal of resources but it is odd that the woman would be so focussed on punishing the man that she would potentially harm the children – psychologically if not physically.

    It’s not uncommon for these mothers to cause the children a lot of distress by lying about the father’s behaviour or feelings towards them. If the revenge impulse overcomes the maternal one, then it must be very strong.

    It’s not hard to see why the Christian god is so big on revenge (Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord) when it’s so deeply ingrained in us and we project our nature onto our (made-up) deities.

  32. Paul Carter said,

    July 15, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    @Tessa K (31): good textual awareness regarding Les Liaisons Dangereuses. It’s worth doing a similar job on the bible. The new testament verse which contains “vengeance is mine […] saith the Lord” is actually part of a sentence which is encouraging the reader NOT to take revenge. It’s one possible view that the Christian god is big on revenge, but it’s only one possible view. Maybe we do project our nature on to deities but that can also be a way of developing a sophisticated response to our nature. In fact, there is a biblical tradition to the effect of “the best way to get back at someone is to be nice to them”. And Jesus’s saying that Ben alludes to at the end of his piece could indeed be taken as selfish-ish: turning the other cheek can just as easily be interpreted as calculated (but non-violent) resistance to an occupying force rather than the common (mis?)understanding of being a doormat.

    Please note (before I’m flamed): I’m saying nothing about my own views on religion/faith/etc here. But I am still saying give me French any day over Klingon. 🙂

  33. SteveGJ said,

    July 15, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    @Tessa K

    The “Vengeance is mine” sentiment rather predates Christianity as it’s from Deuteronomy. Not to say that at least some parts of Christianity haven’t adopted the notion. As Richard Dawkins observed, the Old Testament god is a particularly bloodthirsty one. A more recent and charitable interpretation, more in line with the New Testament thinking, is that it is comparable to the state having the duty to punish wrong doings rather than the individual settling the issue through revenge. However in, reading the original context it does seem rather more consistent with a bunch of bronze-age tribal folklore makers comforting themselves with the notion that the big man upstairs will sort their enemies out on their behalf. The Old Testament abounds with all that sort of stuff – the deaths of the poor unfortunate Egyptian first-born sons and all that kind of thing.

    I assume that personal revenge has some form of evolutionary advantage under some cirumstances. It would be interesting to know how prevalent it is in the animal kingdom. I believe chimpanzees are known to exact and take delight in revenge. Of course there are plenty of other “lower order” animals where there are power-driven social structures, alpha males (and females) and all that sort of stuff. I rather doubt that a young stag will seek to beat an elder he has lost to in an earlier rutting season simply to settle a grudge. It just looks like a simple competition for the right to breed to me – you need higher cognitative behaviour to turn into something really nasty and personal. But there is surely some connection. I rather suspect it is just yet another of those bits of behavioural legacy that we are all, to one extent or another, left with to reconcile with operating in human society. But the eye-for-an-eye vs the turn-the-other-cheek argument has surely been going on for as long as humans have organised themselves into social groups.

  34. eponymous85 said,

    July 16, 2009 at 11:53 am

    @ emen

    The government has recently put millions of pounds in to improving access to psychological therapies. Locally to me (and it is now a similar story nationally), the waiting list is about 2 months maximum and the majority of people are seen before that. They are also properly assessed by a psychological therapist, who listens to your answers and everything.

  35. Tessa K said,

    July 16, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    @ Steve and Paul

    You’re right that ‘Vengeance is mine’ can be read that god is telling people not to take personal revenge. However, that doesn’t really fit with the ‘eye for an eye’ approach (the usual case of bits of the Bible that contradict each other). And yes, this is the OT god but many people will cherry-pick bits of the OT to justify their behaviour, despite the NT message of peace, love etc. In fact, many fundies seem more OT than NT.

    As to Les Liaisons, I studied it at college (ALERT – Arts grad!!)

    Punishing cheaters is a necessary part of maintaining a stable group. Enjoying it is another matter. Maybe it takes higher cognitive functioning to be spiteful. Mind you, saying ‘I forgive you’ in a really patronising way can be quite satisfying too.

  36. Sili said,

    July 16, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    Ah, so the issue is “SSRIs do work (for some), but the serotonin hypothesis is crap”. Good, I knew that much.

    I just kept wondering why they appeared to work despite my skepticism.


    That sounds like ‘Winter depression’ – I’ve had that too (presumably’ll have it again next Winter). Try getting one of those silly high-luminousity lamps. It seemed to work for me. I rigged it up to a timer and had it wake me about half an hour before I needed to get up.

  37. Alexa said,

    July 17, 2009 at 5:34 am

    Emen and Sili, indeed it sounds like Seasonal Affective Disorder, much more common in the latitudes with long winters. It may or may not come back every winter, but like any illness (mental or otherwise), it is up to you to decide to what extent you want to seek treatment.

  38. emen said,

    July 17, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    Thank you Sili and Alexa – yes, I did get the lamp and it probably worked. But it was a few years ago now and I haven’t had the problem since. It didn’t feel like I had any mental problem, just tired, and grumpy BECAUSE I was tired and couldn’t do much.

    Eponymous: it is good news (I really hope it is true).

    Lasker, I think you misunderstood me. I wasn’t ruminating about my GP or blaming him. I was ruminating (probably totally pointlessly) about this SSRI question. You hear so many stories about “My boyfriend left me and I can’t stop crying, I was given tablets” and then others like Mr BadScience “I don’t recommend SSRIs for mild depression ’cause it is only placebo.”

    Oh, and the story about my GP was only there because I would have thought they test you a bit more thoroughly before prescribing SSRIs.
    (Lasker, do you work for the NHS? There is always somebody else to blame there wherever there seems to be a problem.)

  39. njdowrick said,

    August 16, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    @ Tessa K: “An eye for an eye” is (surprisingly) about limiting revenge, rather than encouraging it. For example, if you poke my eye out then I am allowed to do the same in return. I am not allowed to kill your sons, rape your womenfolk and appropriate your lands and cattle, or any permutation of the above. I don’t think the idea is Hebrew in origin, although possibly this phrasing is; I think the idea of exact reciprocity comes from the code of Hammurabi.

  40. stevenstevo said,

    October 8, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    I’m a kind of surprised to read such an article on this sight. First of all, the topic of free riders has been discussed and studied for decades–the evidence is clear, free riders economically are very detrimental to society. A great example would be a top executive at a bank getting paid hundreds of millions in salary even though his company went bankrupt. Most people know this and thus despise free riders. Oh yeah, and humans do not always commit actions that result in sustainable happiness. It’s not just being selfish–it’s simply that someone did something to you that is so wrong you feel the need to do likewise to them, perhaps to demonstrate how wrong it was.

    I don’t follow the connection though between a study that proves that revenge is often detrimental to the avenger with the notion that the diagnosis of mental disorders is bad. My suspicion is that this is yet another rant against how bad psychiatry is because they try to attribute a specific disorder name. First of all, the whole name diagnosis thing is not such big deal. I mean, my guess is I will never hear of this Embitterness thing again. Just because some psychologist at some point 30 years ago diagnosed homosexuality as a disorder doesn’t mean that the whole field of psychiatry is deeply flawed.
    If anyone knows that mental health is a very complex field, it’s psychiatrists. That’s why they don’t merely write you a prescription and then send you on your way (like a medical doctor would)–instead they provide counseling over hours of time, for months and months. As for depression, again, even if if psychiatrists were wrong about that, that doesn’t mean they are wrong about everything. Diagnosing disorders merely means to apply a name and common traits to similar abnormal psychological traits exhibited by people under similar pretenses. That is a fundamental tenant of psychology and has been proven scientifically in countless areas.

  41. wayscj said,

    November 21, 2009 at 6:33 am

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