Perhaps you have experienced the feeling of avoiding a person who was unfair to you. It has been suggested that there are two main reactions to a transgressor, avoiding the transgressor or seeking revenge. Although it seems that these behaviors are on opposite ends of a spectrum, it seems they are associated on a psychological level.

As for vengefulness, it has been reportedly linked to dopaminergic signaling which is involved in the brain reward system. When people feel positive emotions, brain regions such as the cingulate gyrus, insula, dorsolateral and prefrontal cortex are strongly activated. In addition, previously reported studies have shown that these same brain regions were strongly activated in a trial in which participants punished a person who made an unfair offer compared to trials in which participants did not punish anybody. This suggests that the participants’ brains reactions to punishing somebody were similar to being rewarded. Likewise, the avoidance motivation can also be understood as rewarding by him/herself. The study described below provides some evidence to show that these two personality traits, avoidance motivation and vengefulness, are psychologically and genetically connected.

Researchers investigated the molecular genetics of individual differences in avoidance motivation and vengefulness, focusing on the Catechol-O-Methyltransferase (COMT) Val158Met polymorphism (rs4680) in 730 Chinese and 585 German participants. They selected this polymorphism because it is known to affect dopaminergic signaling and brain activity when people punish others for their unfair behavior. Two different self-reported measures, Chinese and German versions of the TRIM-12 and the Vengeance Scale questionnaires, were implemented to assess individual differences in tendencies to react to a transgression. Results showed that participants, especially males, with at least one copy of the Met (A) allele were associated with higher vengefulness in the Chinese sample, but not in the German sample. The Met allele was also related to the tendency to avoid a transgressor in the Chinese male and female (n = 196) samples, with an especially pronounced effect in the female subgroup. The same effect could be found in the German sample, again especially in females (n = 399).

In sum, the association between the Met allele of the COMT Val158Met polymorphism and the scale Avoidance Motivation was the most stable and robust finding, especially across the two female samples with completely different cultural backgrounds. This indicates a general cross-cultural effect, and maybe gender-specificity. As shown in the study, there was a substantial correlation between the two phenotypes. One potential explanation may be that the tendency to avoid a transgressor could reflect a tendency toward seeking to punish transgressors by ending a relationship (e.g., friendship) and thus incorporates a component of vengefulness (e.g., a typical item of Avoidance Motivation is “I cut off the relationship with him/her”). In this case, the association between the Met allele of the COMT Val158Met polymorphism and higher scores in Avoidance Motivation might be explained by higher experience of reward during punishment of the transgressor. Read more about the study here:

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Avoidance of Transgressors

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