Vindictiveness doesn’t pay. At least that is what researchers from two German universities have discovered.

According to the study, a person inclined to deal with inequity on a tit-for-tat basis tends to experience more unemployment than other people.

Vindictive people also have fewer friends and are less satisfied with their lives.

We tend to live by the motto “tit for tat.” We repay an invitation to dinner with a counter-invitation; when a friend helps us to move house, we help to move his furniture a few months later. On the other hand, we repay meanness in the same coin.

Scientists speak here of reciprocity. A person who repays friendly actions in a like manner is said to behave with positive reciprocity, and one who avenges unfairness acts with negative reciprocity.

Positive and negative reciprocity are interdependent traits: many people incline to positive reciprocity, others more to negative; others, again, incline to both. The researchers from Bonn and Maastricht wanted to discover what influence these traits of character have on parameters such as “success” or “satisfaction with life.”

For this, they resorted to data from the so-called “socio-economic panel.” This contains information gathered by the Deutsche Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung (German Institute for Economic Research) in its annual surveys. These involve around 20,000 respondents from all over Germany and cover a diversity of topics.

The researchers in Bonn used this instrument to discover something about the attitudes to reciprocity of the participants in the study. They were to state, for example, to what extent they would repay a favor or, on the other hand, an insult on a tit-for-tat basis.

“Both positive and negative reciprocity are widespread in Germany,” declares Professor Dr. Armin Falk of Bonn University, summarizing the results.

The study appears in the current edition of the Economic Journal.

Source: University of Bonn