Spite? Yes, It Sometimes Can Make Right

Spite.  Sometimes it's delicious, like when your neighbor yells at you for your son accidentally kicking his soccer ball onto her lawn.  And then you see a dog owner stop in her yard and -- well, you get the picture.

Now researchers are finding that spite is good, and that it may actually help us engage in a cooperative spirit and fair play.  

According to Natalie Angier, "The new research on spite transcends older notions that we are savage, selfish brutes at heart, as well as more recent suggestions that humans are inherently affiliative creatures yearning to love and connect. Instead, it concludes that vice and virtue, like the two sides of a V, may be inextricably linked."

Studies found that men were generally more spiteful than women and young adults more spiteful than older ones, and that spitefulness generally co-existed side by side with traits like callousness, Machiavellianism and poor self-esteem — but not with agreeableness, conscientiousness or a tendency to feel guilt, Angier reports.

She notes that a new report suggests that sometimes spite can even "make right."

It all has to do with cheating, and selfishness.  When selfish players intent on maximizing their profits regularly punish other selfish players or exclude them from a group, the net outcome is an overall decline in selfish exchanges to a reasonably stable state, Angier writes.

So it turns out that wanting to punish others who have cheated or embarrassed you somehow tends to make us try to put things right (like my feeling that my neighbor who got mad at me for a simple, accidental thing would see what it feels like when others do it, too). 

It still doesn't say much about those of us who want to see others "punished" for punishing us, but somehow, it does feel good!


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