Adolescents' implicit theories predict desire for vengeance after peer conflicts: correlational and experimental evidence

Dev Psychol. 2011 Jul;47(4):1090-107. doi: 10.1037/a0023769.


Why do some adolescents respond to interpersonal conflicts vengefully, whereas others seek more positive solutions? Three studies investigated the role of implicit theories of personality in predicting violent or vengeful responses to peer conflicts among adolescents in Grades 9 and 10. They showed that a greater belief that traits are fixed (an entity theory) predicted a stronger desire for revenge after a variety of recalled peer conflicts (Study 1) and after a hypothetical conflict that specifically involved bullying (Study 2). Study 3 experimentally induced a belief in the potential for change (an incremental theory), which resulted in a reduced desire to seek revenge. This effect was mediated by changes in bad-person attributions about the perpetrators, feelings of shame and hatred, and the belief that vengeful ideation is an effective emotion-regulation strategy. Together, the findings illuminate the social-cognitive processes underlying reactions to conflict and suggest potential avenues for reducing violent retaliation in adolescents.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Aggression / psychology*
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Peer Group*
  • Personality
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Psychological Theory*
  • Social Behavior
  • Statistics as Topic*