The Psychology of Vengeance with the External Research Experience Scheme (ERES)
We were delighted to work with Nick Ross as part of the External Research Experience Scheme. Nick is an alumnus of our School, a veteran broadcaster, journalist and campaigner.
What is ERES?
The External Research Experience Scheme (ERES) for Psychology Students is intended to provide our undergraduates the opportunity to gain valuable experience working on research projects with alumni in international academic institutions. Students are expected to work approximately 150 hours throughout the year, to gain a greater understanding of how research is performed, as well as developing key skills in a range of research activities.
Nick Ross and Prof Cherie Armour lead our ERES students (Tara & Arjoon) to research vengeance and blame. The students were involved in several literature reviews and the project was conducted virtually over a 12-week period.
Nick explains more about the rationale behind this placement:
“The research was part of a broader inquiry into how the criminal justice system has become substantially divorced from the task of reducing crime. While we prefer to think of court disposals as justice – which we regard as a noble concept – in practice it is hard to differentiate penalties imposed by magistrates or judges from a policy of retribution. In reality, criminal justice disposals make surprisingly little difference to crime rates. Victim surveys around the word show scant correlation between sentences handed down by courts and the trajectory of crime thereafter. On the contrary, where there is clear correlations it seems that more punitive penalties tend to follow in the wake of rising crime, presumably as an exasperated response.
This is not to say that formal punishment has no effect at all, or to deny that incarceration can reduce offending so long as an offender is confined. But why do all human societies regard a crime as solved when someone has been found to blame? This punitive approach is not the remedy adopted in many other areas of health and safety – in tackling disease or air accidents for example. Why in crime? Indeed, why have we expanded the idea of crime and punishment even to outcomes which were plainly accidental, such as a fatal driving error or doctors misdiagnosing a disease? Why do almost all cultures assume that criminal sanctions work and ignore the evidence when they do not. What is it that makes people want reprisals? Do victims generally feel better (‘closure’ is the term often used) when someone has been punished for the crime? And is there a robust association between the severity of punishment and the sense of reward among victims and the general public?
This is plainly a large canvas, so the first priority was a review of the literature to see what academic attention has been given to the subject in the past. How much is our desire for revenge innate and how much is shaped by the culture that envelops us? What are the neurophysiological implications? How much do non-human animals behave in the same way?”
The student experience:
Tara Anderson’s experience:
"Arjoon and I reviewed the literature of different areas of vengeance and presented our findings at regular meetings. For me, I focused primarily on the neurophysiology of vengeance looking at studies which used fMRI's to investigate the areas of the brain involved in revenge seeking and acting on revenge. This was a really valuable experience to my degree overall as well as my personal development. I gained literature review skills which have been very beneficial for my thesis. Further, I developed presentation skills in complex research findings which has helped to improve my confidence. It was a great opportunity to work with such an experienced external collaborator in an area that I wouldn't normally have gotten an insight into as part of my degree."
The outcome of this ERES:
“Two undergraduates, Arjoon Arunasalam & Tara Anderson, volunteered, and although they had little experience of this sort of research they were both surprisingly effective. Prof Armour kept an advisory presence throughout and could not have been more helpful. In fact my only regret is that Tara and Arjoon failed to turn up a huge volume of evidence for a very good reason: they helped reveal how little consistent and coherent research there has been on the subject. I hope both of them stick with psychology after graduating, and if they do that they explore these issues further, perhaps for PhDs. Meanwhile ERES has helped plant seeds which I hope one day I will harvest into original, useful and maybe even influential insights”.
If you have an ERES opportunity, please contact Carolyn Largey (email@example.com) to discuss further.