Combating the sting of rejection with the pleasure of revenge: A new look at how emotion shapes aggression

David S. Chester, C. N. DeWall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


How does emotion explain the relationship between social rejection and aggression? Rejection reliably damages mood, leaving individuals motivated to repair their negatively valenced affective state. Retaliatory aggression is often a pleasant experience. Rejected individuals may then harness revenge's associated positive affect to repair their mood. Across 6 studies (total N = 1,516), we tested the prediction that the rejection-aggression link is motivated by expected and actual mood repair. Further, we predicted that this mood repair would occur through the positive affect of retaliatory aggression. Supporting these predictions, naturally occurring (Studies 1 and 2) and experimentally manipulated (Studies 3 and 4) motives to repair mood via aggression moderated the rejection-aggression link. These effects were mediated by sadistic impulses toward finding aggression pleasant (Studies 2 and 4). Suggesting the occurrence of actual mood repair, rejected participants' affective states were equivalent to their accepted counterparts after an act of aggression (Studies 5 and 6). This mood repair occurred through a dynamic interplay between preaggression affect and aggression itself, and was driven by increases in positive affect (Studies 5 and 6). Together, these findings suggest that the rejection- aggression link is driven, in part, by the desire to return to affective homeostasis. Additionally, these findings implicate aggression's rewarding nature as an incentive for rejected individuals' violent tendencies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)413-430
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 American Psychological Association.


  • Aggression
  • Emotion regulation
  • Mood
  • Positive affect
  • Social rejection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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