Most vendettas come from within a group

The majority of vendettas come from within a group, new research has suggested. Investigators from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plon and the University of Gottingen discovered feuds among members of a gang can last over long periods of time.

It was noted that people involved in a vendetta suffer significant harm as a consequence, with the benefits of taking part not being particularly apparent.

In addition, it was shown that these individuals often forget the reason why they became embroiled in the argument in the first place.

The researchers carried out an experiment where participants punished one another if they paid too little money into a common pool.

Manfred Milinski from the Max Planck Institute noted: "As a result of punishment for misconduct, vendettas regularly arose, especially when the original punishment was unjust or excessive."

Mr Milinski added that despite this behaviour, they tended to cooperate more via the mechanism of punishment.

Chartered Psychologist Dr Jay Watts comments:

"What is fascinating about this study is the persistence of vendettas even after the cause is long forgotten, and with no obvious ongoing benefit for the person holding the vendetta. To conceptualise why this might be the case, we need to consider the psychodynamics of groups where battles for power and prestige occur for us all on a daily basis.

We can all find ourselves hypervigilant for perceived slights in our workplaces - why did that person leave us out of the tea run, why are we the butt of a particular joke. Our hypervigilance to our perceived ranking in a social group is amplified by real life threat, be it a world where redundancies are rife or, as in this study, in gang culture where maintaining status can be a matter of life or death.

Bearing a vendetta can be not just about the individual who is perceived to have insulted us, but also a way of communicating 'don't mess with me' to a wider group. Feeling someone has wronged us also allows us to organise emotions - the threat, we may think to ourselves, the transgression, is caused by that person, that event. Accordingly, holding a vendetta may have multiple functions distinct from any particular transgression between two individuals.

The study begs us to consider the quiet, but important vendettas we can all hold in groups in which we belong. What, we might ask ourselves, might be the real function of these vendettas for us as individuals and for our status within the group?"

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