This stuns me – it’s so obviously true, but I needed this New York Times article (to access it, you may need to register) to put it into words.
As a rule, when we are hurt and we retaliate, we tend to hit back harder. Now, apparently, this is not because we want to hit back more forcefully, but because the hurt we receive is felt to be more painful than the hurt we inflict.
An experiment described in the article was telling:
… pairs of volunteers were hooked up to a mechanical device that allowed each of them to exert pressure on the other volunteer’s fingers.
The researcher began the game by exerting a fixed amount of pressure on the first volunteer’s finger. The first volunteer was then asked to exert precisely the same amount of pressure on the second volunteer’s finger. The second volunteer was then asked to exert the same amount of pressure on the first volunteer’s finger. And so on. The two volunteers took turns applying equal amounts of pressure to each other’s fingers while the researchers measured the actual amount of pressure they applied.
The results were striking. Although volunteers tried to respond to each other’s touches with equal force, they typically responded with about 40 percent more force than they had just experienced. Each time a volunteer was touched, he touched back harder, which led the other volunteer to touch back even harder. What began as a game of soft touches quickly became a game of moderate pokes and then hard prods, even though both volunteers were doing their level best to respond in kind.
Wonder how many fights between brothers and lovers this “neurological quirk” causes…