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Psyche: Revenge actually tastes sweet


Behavioral psychology: Even small children want to punish anti-social behavior
An old saying goes that "revenge should taste sweet". Those who take revenge have previously been injured or have violated the agreed social standards. Scientists at the Max Planck Institutes for Cognitive and Neurosciences and for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig have found that “six-year-old children and chimpanzees want to reprimand anti-social behavior - and even take the effort and expense to be there even to be punished to be able to. ”

Developmental biology behavioral biology
So that we can live together in communities, we have to cooperate with each other. To organize this, we punish others if they behave uncooperatively. So far it has been unclear when we will develop the drive to punish this behavior - and whether this trait is purely human. In a research project, scientists from the Max Planck Institute found that children and chimpanzees as young as six want to reprimand anti-social behavior - and even go to great expense and effort to be able to take part in the punishment themselves.

When we see someone else suffering, we usually feel uncomfortable and want to help them. However, this feeling can also be reversed. If a person has previously behaved antisocially, it may even happen that we happily observe how pain is inflicted on them. It is known from previous studies that we then see their suffering as a deserved punishment and a means of punishing their misconduct. And not only that: We feel malicious joy when we look at the measure regulation.

Little was known about the evolutionary origin of this behavior. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences from the Department of Social Neurosciences have therefore, together with colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, investigated at what age people want to watch what they consider to be a punishment, and whether this characteristic actually exists is present in chimpanzees as our closest relatives.

Children's theater as a social experiment
To study the behavior of the children, the researchers used a puppet theater in which two characters with different social roles appeared one after the other: a friendly figure who gave them back their favorite toy or a malicious doll who kept it to himself. In addition, an animal that took the punishing role and pretended to hit the two with a stick. The small viewers between the ages of four and six could now decide whether they would like to follow the faked beatings by paying for it with a coin, or whether they would rather not do so and exchange the coin for stickers.

And indeed: in the case of the kind-minded figure, the children usually refused to watch her suffer. However, if it was up to the villain, many of the six-year-olds did without the stickers and preferred to invest their coins in order to witness his punishment. And not only that: They even experienced real joy when they saw him suffering, expressed in their facial expressions. In the four- and five-year-old viewers, this differentiated behavior towards the two opposing figures was not yet evident.

Chimpanzees also enjoy fair punishment
The scientists observed similar things in the chimpanzees. In the research area of ​​the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology at the Leipzig Zoo, they tested their ambitions to punish antisocial behavior with the help of two keepers, who also slipped into two opposing social roles: while one was always feeding the animals, the other was taking it away from them again. Another person then pretended to hit both with a stick. Here, too, a significant number of chimpanzees took the trouble and expense to see how the unpopular keeper is punished. They had to open a heavy door to an adjoining room from where they could watch the scenery. In the case of the friendly person, however, they did not. They even protested loudly that he would be in pain.

“Our results show that children as young as 6, and even chimpanzees, want to punish unjust behavior and feel an urge to watch how others are punished for their anti-social behavior. This is where the evolutionary roots of this behavior lie, which is essential to organize life in communities, ”explains Natacha Mendes, scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences and one of the two first authors of the underlying study. “We cannot say clearly whether the children and the monkeys actually feel malicious. However, their behavior is a clear sign that both children from the age of six and chimpanzees have an urge to watch how others are punished for their uncooperative behavior, ”adds Nikolaus Steinbeis, also first author of the study and scientist at Max -Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences and the University College in London. (pm, sb)

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