The “Iliad” may be a giant of Western lit­er­a­ture, yet its plot hinges on a human impulse nor­mally thought petty: spite.

Achilles holds a fes­tering grudge against Agamemnon (“He cheated me, wronged me … He can go to hell…”) turning down gifts, homage, even the return of his stolen con­sort Bri­seis just to pro­long the king’s suffering.

Now, after decades of focusing on such sta­ples of bad behavior as aggres­sive­ness, self­ish­ness, nar­cis­sism and greed, sci­en­tists have turned their atten­tion to the sub­tler and often unset­tling theme of spite — the urge to punish, hurt, humil­iate or harass another, even when one gains no obvious ben­efit and may well pay a cost.

Psy­chol­o­gists are exploring spite­ful­ness in its cus­tomary role as a neg­a­tive trait, a lapse that should be embar­rassing but is often sub­li­mated as right­eous­ness, as when you take your own sour time pulling out of a parking space because you notice another car is waiting for it and you’ll show that vul­ture who’s boss here, even though you’re wasting your own time, too.

Read the article at The New York Times →