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Germans announce: Revenge is inefficient

If only we'd discovered this sooner

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In development which should strike fear into the hearts of action-movie scriptwriters and BOFHs everywhere, remorselessly efficient German economists have calculated that revenge is inefficient.

According to the German national socio-economic database, vengeful people are more likely to be unemployed, have fewer friends and are less satisfied with their lives than those who occasionally let a bad turn go unpunished.

The new analysis comes from profs at the University of Bonn, using data from the Deutsche Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung (German Institute for Economic Research), which carries out widespread surveys among the German people. There was also involvement by researchers in Holland and other countries.

In a survey of 20,000 Germans, respondents - along with the usual answers about employment, satisfaction, number of chums etc. - were asked what their attitude was to the "eye for an eye" school of thought, referred to by the profs as "reciprocity".

Positive reciprocity is the "one good turn deserves another" version, whereas negative reciprocity is for those who simply will not let it lie.

"Both positive and negative reciprocity are widespread in Germany", declares Professor Doktor Armin Falk of the Institut für Gesellschafts- und Wirtschaftswissenschaften at Bonn University, summarising the results.

But it seems that the negatively reciprocal vindictive types don't have nearly as good a time. In particular they are much more likely to be unemployed than others, which Falk puts down to the fact that managers find them difficult to motivate (unlike positively-reciprocal sorts, who respond to bonuses or free company drinks by working harder or longer). Even worse, attempts to discipline the irascible, vengeful slacker will lead to trouble: go-slows, or even sabotage.

"On the basis of these theoretical considerations it would be natural to expect that negatively reciprocal people are more likely to lose their jobs," says Falk. "A supposition which coincides with our results."

The prof also says that, at least in Germany, "anyone who prefers to act according to the Old Testament motto of 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth' has on average less friends – and is clearly less than satisfied with his or her life."

The profs publish their paper Homo Reciprocans: Survey Evidence on Behavioural Outcomes in this month's Economic Journal, and online here (subscription required). ®

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