A revenge effect is the ironic, unintended effect of some action or technology, according to Edward Tenner in the book Why Things Bite Back: The Revenge of Unintended Consequences. Examples of revenge effects are:

  • Filter-tip cigarettes often increase nicotine intake because smokers inhale them more deeply.
  • Telecommuting often ties workers to their work more closely because work can be done at any hour of the day or night.
  • Car alarms can sometimes lead to a car being damaged by angry neighbors who want the alarm noise stopped.

Tenner notes, "A revenge effect is not the same thing as a side effect. If a cancer chemotherapy treatment causes baldness, that is not a revenge effect; but if it induces another, equally lethal cancer, that is a revenge effect." He lists several sub-categories of revenge effects:

rearranging effect
A revenge effect that comes from relocating things, such as a case where builders were legally required to relocate endangered tortoises when their habitat was destroyed, but it turns out that the tortoises spread a virus in their new environment and killed more animals than were saved.
recomplicating effect
A revenge effect that arises from supposedly simplifying technology. For example, push-button telephones made it easier to dial a phone number, but allowed the introduction of voice-mail systems which forced users to dial many more numbers than they would have originally had to.
recongesting effect
A revenge effect arising from a supposedly unlimited space becoming overcrowded (such as the problems of finding electromagnetic spectrum space for all the people and organizations which want to transmit in it).
regenerating effect
A revenge effect that acts like a mythological Hydra, where "solving" one problem merely breaks it into smaller pieces. An example is a missile being broken into pieces when it is "intercepted" -- apparently a piece of a Scud missile the size of a soda can is enough to punch through five inches of concrete, so the damage from an intercepted missile is merely spread over a larger area.
repeating effect
A revenge effect arising from a "time-saving" device, such as people doing laundry more often because of washing machines than they would have washing the clothes by hand or sending them out to a laundry.
resurging effect
"That which does not kill me, makes me stronger." This revenge effect happens when the attempt to get rid of something ends up eradicating its enemies too -- when insecticide kills the predators of the fire ants, the fire ants which survive can build bigger colonies without being eaten.

And Tenner also points out the occasional "reverse revenge effect," a positive unintended consequence, such as animals thriving in former artillery ranges because the shells and waste have kept people away.

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