Whether it is 'Sholay', 'Singham', 'Baaghi' or 'John Wick', when it comes to cinema we enjoy seeing bad guys get their punishment more than seeing them be forgiven, because people find these narratives more meaningful and thought-provoking, says a new study.
"We like stories in which the wrongdoers are punished and when they get more punishment than they deserve, we find it fun," said study lead author Matthew Grizzard from Ohio State University in the US.
"Still, people appreciate stories of forgiveness the most, even if they don't find them to be quite as fun," Grizzard added.
The study, published in the journal Communication Research, involved 184 college students who read short narratives that they were told were plots to possible television episodes.
The students read 15 narratives: one-third in which the villain was treated positively by the victim; one-third in which the villain received a just punishment; and one-third in which the villain was punished over and beyond what would have been a suitable penalty for the crime.
For example, one story involved a person stealing $50 from a co-worker. Participants read one of three possible endings.
In one scenario, the victim bought coffee for the thief (under-retribution/forgiveness); in another, the victim stole a $50 bottle of whiskey from the thief (equitable retribution); and in the third version the victim both stole his money back and downloaded porn onto the thief's work computer (over-retribution).
Immediately after reading each scenario, the participants were asked if they liked or disliked the narrative.
More people liked the equitable retribution stories than those that involved under- or over-retribution, the study said.
The researchers also timed how long it took the readers to click the like or dislike button on the computer after reading each of the narratives.
They found that readers took less time to respond to stories with equitable retribution than it did for them to respond to stories with under- or over-retribution.
"People have a gut-level response as to how they think people should be punished for wrongdoing and when a narrative delivers what they expect, they often respond more quickly," Grizzard said.
When the punishment did not fit the crime, the participants took a bit longer to respond to the story with a like or dislike.
According to the study, participants thought stories in which the bad guys were over-punished would be the most enjoyable and those in which the bad guys were forgiven would be the least enjoyable to watch.
Equitable punishment was in the middle. But they also said they would appreciate the stories about forgiveness more than the other two types of narratives.
They also paused for the over-punishment narratives, they did not find them more meaningful, only more enjoyable.
"That suggests the pause may have been simply to savour the extra punishment the villain received," Grizzard said.
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