Revenge is seductive, if not sweet: Why friends matter for prevention efforts

Karin S. Frey, Cynthia R. Pearson, Dov Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A surprising omission of much research on bullying is the role of retaliation, a common response to bullying that predicts increased victimization. Retaliation appears to be a ubiquitous feature of human society and may be used to justify bullying. Yet bullying evaluations rarely measure whether programs have reduced retaliation. This paper examines the utility of multiple theoretical frames for understanding the implications of retaliation for bullying prevention. It summarizes evolutionary, cultural, and developmental affordances, and presents a recursive model of bystander-friend reciprocity. The authors argue that adolescents influence retaliation in their friends by contributing to emotion regulation, advising responses to bullying, and by serving as mediators or proxy retaliators. The help they give friends is posited to engender powerful feelings of pride and other identity-relevant feelings that encourage future assistance, and elicit reciprocal feelings of obligation and influence. Implications of the model for prevention efforts are detailed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-35
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Applied Developmental Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2015


  • Adolescents
  • Bullying
  • Honor culture
  • Identity
  • Retaliation
  • Revenge

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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