Schadenfreude

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For the EP by Lubricated Goat, see Schadenfreude (EP).
Return to the Convent, by Eduardo Zamacois y Zabala, 1868. Note the group of monks laughing while the lone monk struggles with the donkey.

Schadenfreude (/ˈʃɑːdənfrɔɪdə/; German: [ˈʃaːdn̩ˌfʁɔʏ̯də]; lit. 'harm-joy') is pleasure derived from the misfortune of others. Borrowed from German into English and several other languages, it is a feeling of joy that comes from seeing or hearing about another person's troubles or failures. It is an expression of pleasure or self-satisfaction at another's failure.[1]

For schadenfreude, relationship between observer and target of the emotion is typically negative. Such undesirable behavior encourages dislike and resentment in the observer.[2] The resulting negative attitude of the observer leads to a variety of feelings, such as anger, rage, embarrassment or satisfaction. It reveals that the pleasure in schadenfreude is due to the fact that the observer engages in a self-other comparison (with the target of schadenfreude as a comparison object). This indicates that observers experiencing schadenfreude typically recognizes that the target of schadenfreude suffers due to the misfortune. Hence, a situation involving schadenfreude often seems to provide an opportunity for a more favorable self-view and self enhancement.[3]

Moreover, people experiencing schadenfreude typically attempt to hide the emotion and are aware of the fact that the joy one takes in the misfortune of another person is hurtful and potentially maladaptive in social situations.[4][5] It typically appears when a person is convinced that the misfortune has been predictable and thus preventable.

For example, schadenfreude is especially likely when an interaction partner suffers a misfortune because s/he disregarded the advice of the person who subsequently experiences schadenfreude.[6] Actually, it is often the case that the target of schadenfreude could have prevented the misfortune (nota bene, according to the point of view provided by the person experiencing schadenfreude). One might say that the misfortune is deserved in such cases, which is well in line with previous considerations.[7][8][9]

Linguistic analysis[edit]

Spelling and etymology[edit]

Though normally not capitalized in English, the term schadenfreude is sometimes capitalized to mimic German-language convention, as German nouns are always capitalized.

The corresponding German adjective is schadenfroh. The word derives from Schaden (damage, harm) and Freude (joy). Schaden derives from the Middle High German schade, from the Old High German scado, and is a cognate with English scathe. Freude comes from the Middle High German freude, from the Old High German frewida, and is a cognate with the (usually archaic) English word frith. Schadenfreude can be enjoyed in private or it can be celebrated openly.

English equivalents[edit]

Little-used English words synonymous with schadenfreude derive from the Greek word, epichairekakia (ἐπιχαιρεκακία, first attested in Aristotle[10]).[11][12] Nathan Bailey's 18th-century Universal Etymological English Dictionary, for example, contains an entry for epicharikaky that gives its etymology as a compound of ἐπί epi (upon), χαρά chara (joy), and κακόν kakon (evil).[13][14] A popular modern collection of rare words, however, gives its spelling as epicaricacy.[15]

An English expression with a similar meaning is Roman holiday, a metaphor from the poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage by George Gordon, Lord Byron, where a gladiator in ancient Rome expects to be "butchered to make a Roman holiday" while the audience would take pleasure from watching his suffering. The term suggests debauchery and disorder in addition to sadistic enjoyment.[16]

Another phrase with a meaning similar to Schadenfreude is "morose delectation" (delectatio morosa in Latin), meaning, "The habit of dwelling with enjoyment on evil thoughts".[17] The medieval church taught that morose delectation was a sin.[18][19] French writer Pierre Klossowski maintained that the appeal of sadism is morose delectation.[20][21]

An English word of similar meaning is "gloating", where "gloat" means "to observe or think about something with triumphant and often malicious satisfaction, gratification, or delight" (e.g. to gloat over an enemy's misfortune).[22] Gloating is differentiated from Schadenfreude in that it does not necessarily require malice (one may gloat to a friend about having defeated him in a game without ill intent), and that it describes an action rather than a state of mind (one typically gloats to the subject of the misfortune or to a third party). On the other hand, unlike Schadenfreude, where the focus is on someone's misfortune, gloating often brings to mind inappropriately celebrating or bragging about one's own good fortune without any particular focus on the misfortune of others.

Related words[edit]

The Buddhist concept of mudita, "sympathetic joy" or "happiness in another's good fortune", is cited as an example of the opposite of schadenfreude.[23][24] Alternatively, envy, which is unhappiness in another's good fortune, could be considered the counterpart of schadenfreude. Completing the quartet is "unhappiness at another's misfortune"—which can be called sympathy, pity, or compassion.

The transposed variant "freudenschade" has been invented in English to mean sorrow at another person's success.[25][26]

The term "compersion", taking joy in the joy of loved ones, is generally considered an antonym of schadenfreude.

In Chinese, the set phrase "" (pinyin: xìng zāi lè huò) literally translates to take "joy in calamity and delight in disaster", and serves the same meaning as schadenfreude.

The Finnish language contains a word with a meaning similar to schadenfreude, vahingonilo, which literally means "joy of misfortune". Likewise, Swedish also has a term equivalent to schadenfreude: skadeglädje, which translates literally as "injury joy" (the joy of watching someone's injury, be it figurative or literal). Similar terms exist in Danish (skadefro), Norwegian (skadefryd), and Estonian (kahjurõõm) as well.

The Dutch word leedvermaak (literally translatable as "suffer entertainment") is said to be a calque of the German "Schadenfreude.[27]

Afrikaans inherited leedvermaak without any changes in spelling or meaning from Dutch, though the pronunciation is slightly different.

The Arabic language contains the term shamaatah, which, according to the Arabic thesaurus means "to enjoy the calamity upon the enemy".

The Hebrew language contains the biblical term simkha laid, literally means "joy of calamity", mentioned in the Book of Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible.

French uses joie mauvaise (bad or evil joy) and a few similar terms in a sense close to Schadenfreude.[citation needed]

Bulgarian and Russian have the noun злорадство Bulgarian pronunciation: [zɫorˈadstvo], from зло (evil) and радост (joy). Also Bulgarian has a corresponding adjective злорад. Slovak langauge knows the term as well - škodoradosť Slovak pronunciation: [škodoradosť] from škoda (harm) and radosť (joy, pleasure).

Portuguese possesses no single word that can exactly translate the term, but it has a common adage for the same emotion covered by schadenfreude in other languages, pimenta nos olhos dos outros é refresco, which means "to have someone else's eyes peppered is a refreshment" or, more literally, "pepper in someone else's eyes is [to the unaffected] a refreshing drink". According to popular folklore, this might often be the consequence of one putting an olho gordo over another person and the consequential failure that might ensue to their fate. To consciously place a bad omen on someone and then relish with their affliction is called agourar. The meaning of the verb agourar is ambiguous, though, as it might imply just common ill omen (for example, the literal, folkloric bird of ill omen[28]).

Neologisms and variants[edit]

Neologisms and portmanteau words were coined from the word as early as 1993, when Lincoln Caplan, in his book Skadden: Power, Money, and the Rise of a Legal Empire,[29] used the word Skaddenfreude to describe the delight that competitors of Skadden Arps took in its troubles of the early 1990s. Others include spitzenfreude, coined by The Economist to refer to the fall of Eliot Spitzer[30] and Schadenford, coined by Toronto Life in regards to Canadian politician Rob Ford.[31]

Developmental origins[edit]

Human emotions are strongly shaped by the tendency to compare the relative state of oneself to others. Although social comparison based emotions (such as schadenfreude, jealousy etc.) are important social emotions, little is known about their developmental origins. Studies conducted to examine if schadenfreude develops as a response to inequity aversion, show that the reactions of children (as early as 24 months ) to the termination of unequal and equal triadic situations show signs of schadenfreude following the termination of an unequal situation. Although both conditions involved the same amount of gains, the children displayed greater positive expressions following the disruption of the unequal as compared to the equal condition, indicating that inequity aversion can be observed earlier than reported before. These results support an early evolutionary origin of inequity aversion and indicate that schadenfreude has evolved as a response to unfairness.[32]

The developmental origins and proximate mechanisms behind social comparison based emotions are not well understood, despite recent progress.[33][34] Social comparison based emotions involve two (or more) person situations in which one's emotions depends on the other's state. The process of social comparison triggers prosocial emotions such as empathy and compassion to the distress of others but also competitive emotions such as malicious joy or schadenfreude when facing other's misfortune. Schadenfreude is a relatively unstudied emotion and is related to other competitive social comparison based emotions such as envy[35] and resentment and it frequently arises in situations in which the target deserves the misfortune.

Interestingly, while there is strong evidence for biological, evolutionary and developmental roots of prosocial empathically motivated helping behaviors[36][37] the evolutionary and developmental origins of schadenfreude are unknown.

Gain theory[edit]

Schadenfreude, as well as other competitive social comparison based-emotions such as envy and jealousy, originally evolved, as a response to competition between rivals over limited resources. According to this notion, schadenfreude involves pleasure associated with gains in the context of limited resources.[32]

The sibling and the mating rivalry accounts of schadenfreude are in line with the ‘gain’ hypothesis, according to which, schadenfreude is viewed as an emotion that originates from competition over limited resources and therefore it involves a positive reaction to a potential gain during competition.[38] According to this theoretical formulation, pleasure, is a basic automatic reaction to positive rewards and malicious pleasure is the result of the potential reward rather than pleasure in the other's misfortune.[38] This proves that schadenfreude involves a positive reaction to potential gains which is unrelated to the suffering of the rival. Thus, if indeed, as depicted by the gain hypothesis, schadenfreude is a response to a potential gain regardless of a rival's' misfortune, than it should involve similar amounts of positive reactions in response to the termination of a competitive situation vs. a non-competitive situation if both situations involve similar amounts of gains.

Thus, the sibling and mating rivalry accounts of schadenfreude indicates that the distress of a rival (e.g. same-sex rival; sibling) is rewarding as it indicates a potential increase in resources such as parental attention or mating partners.

Sibling rivalry[edit]

Main article: Sibling rivalry

Siblings who from conception are rivals for a parent's resources[39] do experience schadenfreude, as a response to a potential reward such as parental availability. Thus, the suffering of the sibling is rewarding because it signals potential additional parental resources. Sibling rivalry is frequently reported in the animal kingdom, including sibling murder between baby eaglets and pelicans[40] or between shark embryos[41], indicating that it has an evolutionary importance.

Mating rivalry[edit]

Similarly to sibling rivalry, mating rivalry has evolved as a response to competition between same-sex individuals—who are rivals for mating partners. It has been shown that mating strategies in both men and women includes derogating other individuals as a basic mechanism for increasing self-attractiveness.[42] Based on these findings it has been proposed that schadenfreude is a psychological mechanism that responds to misfortunes that lower competitors' mate value in order to increase mating opportunities.[43]

Inequity aversion[edit]

Main article: Inequity aversion

Studies show that schadenfreude has evolved as a response to inequity aversion or the resistance to unfairness and inequalities. Inequity aversion predicts that individuals are sensitive to how their payoffs compared with those of others and therefore individuals react negatively to unfair treatment.[44] According to this, schadenfreude involves the pleasure of termination of an unpleasant unequal situation. Interestingly, it has been shown that inequity aversion develops early in children, further attesting to its evolutionary significance. Fehr, Bernhard, and Rockenbach[45][46] have reported that children at age 7–8 prefer resource allocations that remove advantageous or disadvantageous inequality. Other studies show that inequity aversion is observed even before the age of five. It has been shown that children as young as four years old can judge situations to be undesirable based on concerns with fairness.[47][48] In addition, Paulus, Gillis, Li, & Moore[49], reported that preschool children involve third parties in dyadic sharing situations. Moreover, LoBue, Nishida et al., have recently reported that even three years old children react negatively to disadvantageous inequality. Other reports show that even 15-month-old infants are sensitive to fairness and can engage in altruistic sharing.[50]

That inequity aversion is evident early indicates that it has deep developmental roots. It has been confirmed that negative reactions to an unequal reward distribution in regard to the effort invested, is essential for the evolution of cooperation.[51] Indeed, negative reactions to inequalities have been reported not only in human adults but also in capuchin monkeys[52] and domestic dogs.[53]

Considering the evolutionary significance of negative reactions to disadvantageous distribution, schadenfreude has evolved as a positive reaction to the termination of inequity.[32]

Vicarious ostracism[edit]

Ostracism (being ignored and excluded) causes distress and threatens psychological needs (i.e., belonging, self-esteem, control, and meaningful existence). Even subtle behaviors, such as withholding eye contact or staring through someone as if they did not exist, can induce feelings of ostracism. Empathy research show that individuals vicariously experience others' pain. Most of this research has focused on vicarious physical pain, but might observers also experience vicarious social pain (i.e., ostracism).[54]

In light of the research on vicarious ostracism a paradox emerges: why are rejection/ostracism-based reality television programs (e.g., Survivor) popular? When participants are eliminated, they are openly rejected (told they are not wanted)[55] and ostracized from the show. Initial rejection undoubtedly hurts, but so does subsequent ostracism; they are no longer on the show, no longer included in activities, no longer talked with or about. These two types of social pain have similar psychological outcomes. There have been no vicarious rejection studies, but based on the extant data on vicarious ostracism and other social pain (e.g., vicarious embarrassment)[56], it is likely that observing rejection would have similar vicarious effects.

In such cases, attributions influence interpretations of and reactions to ostracism. Recent neural evidence prove that external attributions for being ostracized (i.e., racism) can help reduce the initial negative effects.[57] By extension, an observer's attributions about an ostracized individual influences vicarious ostracism. Individuals feel satisfaction in others' suffering if perceived as deserved (Schadenfreude) and Schadenfreude research has found feelings of dislike, anger, or resentment can lead to perceived deservingness and pleasure at another's misfortune, both in self-reports and neurological measures.[58] If ostracized/rejected individuals are viewed as deserving their treatment, observers should feel less sympathy for them. Perhaps viewers of rejection-based reality shows lament for individuals unjustly rejected but rejoice when others get what they deserve for behaving anti-socially.

Oxytocin[edit]

The neuropeptide oxytocin (OXT) has received much attention for its role in social cognition and prosocial behavior.[59][60] Previous studies have revealed that OXT strengthens cooperation by stimulating trust[61][62][63][64], generosity[65], and social perception[66][67][68] providing a strong association between OXT and empathy.[69][70]

However, recent evidence specifies that these effects are more nuanced than once assumed and often moderated by situational or personal characteristics.[71] Some findings even point to rather “antisocial” effects of OXT, such as increased envy and Schadenfreude[72] as well as ingroup-favoritism and aggression towards outgroup members.[73][74] Similarly, OXT diminishes cooperation when social information about the interaction partner is lacking[75] and loses its trust-enhancing effect when interaction partners are perceived as unreliable.[76]

Triggering factors[edit]

Guided by the results of the regression analyses, path models were developed. The models integrated schadenfreude and sympathy as mediators of the relation between gender of the protagonist, severity of the misfortune, valence of behavior & responsibility and reward granting.[77]

Schadenfreude is not influenced by the protagonist’s gender and the severity of the misfortune; nevertheless, it has a direct impact on reward granting: Children were less likely to give rewards to protagonists when they felt schadenfreude. Likewise, sympathy is not influenced by the protagonist’s gender, however, it has a direct impact on reward granting. The severity of a misfortune has an indirect effect on reward granting via sympathy. When children evaluate a misfortune as severe, sympathy, and consequently, the desire to grant a reward is increased. Likewise, children feel more sympathy towards and grant more rewards to the female protagonist.[77]

Also, schadenfreude and sympathy mediate the effect of valence of behavior and responsibility on reward granting. When a behavior is evaluated as immoral, schadenfreude increases, and subsequently, fewer rewards are granted. Protagonists who perceive as being responsible for their misfortunes elicit more schadenfreude and are granted fewer rewards. Furthermore, children feel more sympathy and granted more rewards to protagonists who engage in moral behavior. Lower perceived responsibility elicit more sympathy, which consequently, encourage greater granting of rewards.[77]

Literary usage and philosophical analysis[edit]

The Book of Proverbs mentions an emotion similar to schadenfreude: "Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth: Lest the LORD see it, and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him." (Proverbs 24:17–18, King James Version).

In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle used epikhairekakia (ἐπιχαιρεκακία in Greek) as part of a triad of terms, in which epikhairekakia stands as the opposite of phthonos (φθόνος), and nemesis (νέμεσις) occupies the mean. Nemesis is "a painful response to another's undeserved good fortune", while phthonos is a painful response to any good fortune, deserved or not. The epikhairekakos (ἐπιχαιρέκακος) person takes pleasure in another's ill fortune.[78][79]

Lucretius characterises the emotion in an extended simile in De rerum natura: Suave, mari magno turbantibus aequora ventis, e terra magnum alterius spectare laborem, "It is pleasant to watch from the land the great struggle of someone else in a sea rendered great by turbulent winds." The abbreviated Latin tag suave mare magno recalled the passage to generations familiar with the Latin classics.[80]

Caesarius of Heisterbach regards "delight in the adversity of a neighbour" as one of the "daughters of envy ... which follows anger" in his Dialogue on Miracles.[81]

During the 17th century, Robert Burton wrote in his work The Anatomy of Melancholy, "Out of these two [the concupiscible and irascible powers] arise those mixed affections and passions of anger, which is a desire of revenge; hatred, which is inveterate anger; zeal, which is offended with him who hurts that he loves; and ἐπιχαιρεκακία, a compound affection of joy and hate, when we rejoice at other men's mischief, and are grieved at their prosperity; pride, self-love, emulation, envy, shame, &c., of which elsewhere."[82]

The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer mentioned schadenfreude as the most evil sin of human feeling, famously saying "To feel envy is human, to savor schadenfreude is diabolic."[83]

Rabbi Harold S. Kushner in his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People describes schadenfreude as a universal, even wholesome reaction that cannot be helped. "There is a German psychological term, Schadenfreude, which refers to the embarrassing reaction of relief we feel when something bad happens to someone else instead of to us." He gives examples and writes, "[People] don't wish their friends ill, but they can’t help feeling an embarrassing spasm of gratitude that [the bad thing] happened to someone else and not to them."[84]

Susan Sontag's book Regarding the Pain of Others, published in 2003, is a study of the issue of how the pain and misfortune of some affects others, namely whether war photography and war paintings may be helpful as anti-war tools or, whether they only serve some sense of schadenfreude in some viewers.

Philosopher and sociologist Theodor Adorno defined schadenfreude as "... largely unanticipated delight in the suffering of another, which is cognized as trivial and/or appropriate."[85]

Malicious pleasures[edit]

It seems clear, however, that all pleasure at adversity is not the same. Misfortune, direct defeat, deserved failure, and comeuppance are very different types of adversity. Thus, it seems reasonable to expect that the pleasure experienced at each of these adversities is different. Indeed, pleasure at a rival’s misfortune is about something very different than pleasure at defeating a rival oneself or at seeing a rival deservedly punished. One important way in which emotion concepts can be differentiated conceptually is to specify what the experience of pleasure or displeasure is about. For example, pride works well as an emotion concept because it is conceptualized as pleasure about the particular advantage of a deserved success that is distinct from the pleasure of joy or love.[86]

Corollary emotions[edit]

Defining schadenfreude as (any) pleasure at (any) adversity suffered by another party is akin to defining pride as (any) pleasure at (any) good fortune for the self. Such a general definition undermines the value of specific emotion concepts. For this reason alone, schadenfreude is classified as a specific pleasure about a particular kind of adversity that can be conceptually and empirically differentiated from other pleasure at adversity (such as gloating), in terms of its situational features, typical appraisals, and the quantity and quality of the experience and expression of pleasure. More practically, a finer conceptualization of pleasure at adversity can clarify how malicious emotions like schadenfreude and gloating constitute different ways of relating to those suffering adversity. Emotions can be conceptualized as relational states, in the sense that they both reflect and arguably constitute social relationships.[87]

Jealousy[edit]

Since schadenfreude is an emotion that originates from inequity aversion, the termination of an unequal condition triggers more positive reactions as compared to the termination of an equal event, even if the two conditions involve equal gains. Jealousy is the emotion children experience in a triadic situation, when there is a potentially unequal situation which raises a concern about losing exclusivity in significant relationships to a third party.[88] In contrast, envy involves only two-person situations, and this feeling comprises the wish to have another person's possession or success and/or the wish that the other person did not possess this desired characteristic or object. Whereas envy and jealousy are somewhat different[89], these emotions are related and often co-occur[90], indicating that jealousy could equally be associated with schadenfreude.

Studies confirmed that jealousy ratings were higher than schadenfreude ratings, concluding that jealousy is highly intense as compared to schadenfreude. Indeed, it has been shown that jealousy is more intense than other social comparison based emotions such as envy[89] perhaps because it involves an extreme fear of loss of maternal attention. Research on jealousy also shows that this emotions appears most intensely in the majority of children between approximately 13 to 25 months and can be clearly observed around the third year of life. Moreover, there are even reports of forms of jealousy in babies as young as 6 months old, further indicating that jealousy is a powerful emotion that develops extremely early in life. Greater responses to negative events are related to a more basic negativity bias which refers to the psychological phenomenon by which humans pay more attention to and give more weight to negative rather than positive information.[91] Hence, the adaptive nature of negativity bias is such that jealousy in response to unfavorable comparison is likely to motivate specific behaviors for eliminating the gap between the self and the other, whereas there is little in the way of response warranted by the favorable comparison.

Furthermore, it has been resolved that there are potential social comparison benefits behind any misfortune to the extent that it represents downward comparison and the boost to self-evaluation that might follow.[89] Jealousy, like envy represents the polar opposite of a downward comparison and therefore a misfortune befalling on someone we are jealous of, reverses the unfavorable comparison and has an ameliorating effect on self-esteem.[92]

Collectively, the current study shows for the first time that children as early as 24 months show signs of schadenfreude following the termination of an unequal situation, indicating that inequity aversion can be observed earlier than reported before. These findings imply that social comparison and sensitivity to fairness develop early in life further highlighting the evolutionary significance of positive reactions to the termination of an unfair situation. Furthermore, it has been reported that social comparison based emotions are related to different personality traits including self-esteem, neuroticism and sense of inferiority. Smith et al., for example, reported that dispositional envy is negatively correlated with measures of self-esteem and positively related to depression. Considering the strong relationship between envy, jealousy and schadenfreude, individuals with low self-esteem experience more schadenfreude.[93]

Gloating[edit]

We offer the first empirical comparison of the pleasure in seeing (i.e., schadenfreude) and in causing (i.e., gloating) others’ adversity. However, the two pleasures differ greatly in their situational features, appraisals, experience, and expression. This parsing of the particular pleasures of schadenfreude and gloating brings nuance to the study of (malicious) pleasure, which tends to be less finely conceptualized and examined than displeasure despite its importance to social relations.[86] Distinguishing schadenfreude and gloating in terms of the position of the self, is relative to the other party. For example, the wish to flaunt the pleasure of gloating puts the self above the defeated party, who is belittled.[94]

Pleasure in actively and directly causing a rival’s adversity is referred to as gloating, especially when it is experienced as an empowered state of superiority that is lorded over the defeated rival.[95] It is believed that the emotion concept of schadenfreude should describe a particular pleasure at adversity that is distinguishable from other pleasure (e.g., pride and joy) and also believed that schadenfreude should describe a particular pleasure at another’s adversity that is distinguishable from other pleasure at another’s adversity (e.g., gloating). More specifically, the malicious pleasures of schadenfreude and gloating should be experienced differently, with schadenfreude less pleasurable, less empowering, and more passive and indirect than gloating. Schadenfreude and gloating should also be expressed differently, because gloating should be boastful and triumphant in nature and schadenfreude should be more furtive. The experience and expression of schadenfreude and gloating should be corroborated by the quite different ways that the two malicious pleasures position the self in social relations. Whereas gloating is an experience and expression of superiority over others, the muted pleasure of schadenfreude is based in passivity and concerns about inferiority and powerlessness.[96][97] Thus, the distinctions between schadenfreude and gloating can be conceptualized in terms of the

  1. features of the event
  2. appraisals of the event
  3. experience of pleasure
  4. expression of pleasure

The experience of gloating should be more pleasurable than schadenfreude. It is expected that the experience of the two pleasures differ in quality. In comparison to passive schadenfreude, the phenomenological experience of gloating should be embodied as a state of physical activation and arousal. Gloating should also be embodied as a greater state of physical elevation, as people should feel “10 feet tall” and “on top of the world” when they defeat a rival in this way. This elevated phenomenology is consistent with the appraisals of power and status that characterize gloating and schadenfreude.[98] Thus, those experiencing gloating should also feel more triumphant (i.e., victorious, proud) and emboldened (i.e., bold, fearless) than those experiencing schadenfreude.

Thus, schadenfreude is characterized by appraisals that others, rather than the self, are the agent of the precipitating event. Schadenfreude is also unique in being experienced as a state of lower power and performance. Unlike, gloating, joy, and pride, the pleasure in schadenfreude is expressed somewhat furtively; there is less reported smiling and less glee, boasting, and flaunting of one’s pleasure. As well as being distinct from schadenfreude, gloating tends to be as pleasurable as joy. Gloating and joy also tends to be about equal in openly expressing pleasure. This further confirms the intense pleasure of “making others suffer” by defeating them in direct competition. Importantly, gloating is also characterized by greater boasting than pride.[86]

People who express emotion, like those who study emotion, share a rich and varied vocabulary for dysphoric feelings. Our language for euphoric feelings is more limited.[99] Yet, it is evident that all pleasures are not the same. The elation at winning the lottery is different from the pride in seeing a daughter graduate or the joy in watching the sunset. Although pleasures at bad things that happen to other people have a certain malice in common, they too are different from one another. The conflation of schadenfreude and gloating in academic and popular discussion masks the ways in which these two pleasures differ in terms of situational features, appraisals, experience, and expression. Schadenfreude is a modest, furtive, guilty pleasure that does little to empower those who experience it.[100] Gloating is a very different pleasure. It is about a direct and active outperformance of another party who is then made to witness one’s pleasure at their defeat. Gloating is not only a greater experience of pleasure. In contrast to schadenfreude, gloating is experienced as a physical invigoration and elevation of the body. People beam as they “walk on air,” elevated above their defeated rivals. A little smile, and a quiet satisfaction, is all that people seem to get from schadenfreude.[101]

The many distinctions observed between schadenfreude and gloating illustrate the ways in which emotional experience and expression is situated in social relations. Despite being close cousins within the broader family of pleasures, and siblings within the family of pleasures at other’s adversity, gloating and schadenfreude are very different ways of relating to the social world. Although taking pleasure in another’s adversity necessarily positions one against the other, the pleasure of schadenfreude is not flaunted. In fact, it is suppressed to some degree. As such, schadenfreude seems unlikely to lead to more direct derogation or more active mistreatment of the other party.[96] What is gained in schadenfreude is a modest psychological boost for the self. In contrast, gloating is a more active and direct opposition to the other party. The pleasure of gloating is not only experienced more intensely, it is expressed more intently. These emboldened expressions of presumed superiority seem much more likely to fuel further antagonism. Gloating encourages the defeated rival to seek revenge or retribution for the indignity they have been made to suffer. As such, gloating presents a greater risk to social relations than schadenfreude because the experience and expression of gloating empower more, and more direct, antagonism.[97]

Sympathy[edit]

Moral judgments and moral emotions are a ubiquitous feature of social interactions. Humans decide quickly and intuitively whether an action is morally right or wrong. Schadenfreude and sympathy, as emotional reactions to the misfortunes of others, are prototypical moral emotions. So far, however, little evidence exists concerning children’s understanding of schadenfreude. Children experience sympathy as well as schadenfreude at the age of 4 years. Sympathy is more likely to arise when the protagonists of a story are likable, when these actors typically pursue morally positive goals, and if they are not responsible for their misfortune. In contrast, schadenfreude is more likely when the protagonist is disliked, when actors pursue immoral goals and if they are responsible for their misfortune. In addition, sympathy increases approach (helping behavior, sitting next to the agent and doing favors), whereas schadenfreude increases avoidance tendencies.[102]

Schadenfreude and sympathy are two sides of the same coin—they are elicited in situations in which we observe another person who experiences a misfortune. In the case of schadenfreude, we feel pleasure in the other person’s misfortune (positive hedonic quality), while in the case of sympathy, we feel the pain of the other person (negative hedonic quality). Schadenfreude functions as a “stop” signal in social regulation processes indicating a prior misconduct or inattention of the actor. Sympathy on the other hand is a moral “go” signal for the actor as it shows that he was not responsible for his misfortune.[103]

The presence of a comparative situation that is related to one’s own feelings of inferiority towards the actor is a predictor. In this way, schadenfreude is also linked to feelings of envy. This relation is particularly strong for interactions with close actors.[104] In addition, the severity of the misfortune must not be too intense. Imagine if the boy in the park passed out, because his fall was severe. Even if we feel schadenfreude for a second, this will turn into sorrow and fear, which then results in prompt helping behavior. Finally, negative feelings like envy, anger, rage, and hatred towards the actor will enhance feelings of schadenfreude.[105] This is associated with the first argument, as we are more likely to assume that a disliked person has greater deservingness of misfortune. We may think, for instance, that the other person’s experience of the negative event is justice being done.[106]

Sympathy and schadenfreude have similar triggers. Similarly, deservingness is a crucial dimension. In contrast to schadenfreude, feelings of sympathy are more likely to be elicited when a misfortune is undeserved. In terms of attribution research, this clearly leads to the causal dimension of controllability.[107] Thus, there is a focus on the moral value of the action that directly leads to the negative event.[108] Accordingly, we show sympathy when a positive action fails, whereas sympathy is absent when we fail to achieve an immoral goal. Another factor associated with sympathy is whether the person experiencing the negative event is liked or disliked. This factor references very early cognitive psychological concepts.[109]

Prior research on children’s emotional development has largely focused on empathy (to feel as the other) and sympathy (to feel concern for the other). Even infants show reactions to the crying or distress of others.[110] Beginning at the age of two years, children empathize with others. This ability is a prerequisite for perspective taking and thus for sympathy. Furthermore, three-year-old children begin to attribute causality to events and assume what other people feel, think, intend and expect. This development results in the ability to feel and display sympathy. [111]

Schadenfreude can be seen as a “stop” signal and as a response to wrongdoing or carelessness. Children need to have a rudimentary understanding of the moral norms of society (e.g. prohibitions against harming others or stealing things) and be able to perceive norm violations. Children between two and a half and three years old understand norms and recognize their transgression.[112][113] Furthermore, children between five and nine years old learn that the transgression of a norm will lead to immediate punishment. Young children see punishment as a deterrent to further wrongdoing and the stricter it is the more effective they think it will be. In a first study of schadenfreude in preschool children, Schulz, Rudolph, Tscharaktschiew, and Rudolph[114] document that children feel and display schadenfreude beginning at age four. In this study, children were interviewed about their emotional and behavioral reactions towards the protagonist in a picture story. In these stories, the protagonist pursued a moral versus an immoral goal before experiencing a misfortune. Children were more likely to display schadenfreude when the protagonist of the picture stories pursued an immoral goal relative to a moral goal. In contrast, children were more likely to display sympathy and helping behavior when the protagonist pursued a moral goal.

Discordant emotion[edit]

Discordant emotions differ with respect to their hedonic and functional qualities. This is the case for sympathy and schadenfreude. For sympathy, it feels sad to experience this emotion, while it sends a positive signal to the person in need, increasing the likelihood that help will be provided. In contrast, schadenfreude feels joyful (as someone takes joy in the misfortune of others), at the same time, it feels very bad to be the target of schadenfreude. Although these two are very complex emotion, children can feel and display schadenfreude and sympathy already at an age of about three to four years.[115] Sympathy is linked to prosocial actions, whereas schadenfreude predicts absence of help-giving.[116]

Sympathy should predominantly occur when another person fails to attain a morally positive goal. This should be even more the case when much effort is put it to attain this positive goal, but this nevertheless fails. Furthermore, sympathy should also be elicited when effort is unmentioned. For schadenfreude also a negative goal-attainment should be a crucial prerequisite. In contrast to sympathy schadenfreude should be much more likely elicited in situations where a person pursues a morally negative goal. Again, this pattern should apply when high effort is put in or is not mentioned at all. Analyses revealed that situations in which schadenfreude or sympathy was experienced, different kinds of interaction partners were involved. For both discordant emotions, all reported situations included interactions in which participants were ‘observers’ who witnessed another person (the ‘target of the emotion’) suffering a misfortune.[117]

Moral emotion[edit]

Moral emotions are typically elicited in everyday social interactions and regulate social behavior. After analyzing a diverse range of moral emotions, i.e., admiration, anger, contempt, indignation, pride, respect, schadenfreude, and sympathy, by using a mixed-method approach, qualitative and quantitative methods were able to clearly corroborate the important role of ought, goal-attainment, and effort as eliciting conditions of moral emotions. On a most general level, we might say that moral emotions like pride or anger, sympathy or schadenfreude, and the like, regulate our tendencies to approach versus avoid, to praise versus reprimand, and to reinforce versus correct. We also assume, and this characteristic shapes the methodology of the present paper, that these moral emotions evoke vivid memories of our interpersonal life, as they become an integral part of the recollections we tell when it comes to describing and explaining interpersonal events.[117]

We assume that these recollections will shed light on the eliciting conditions of our emotional life. More specifically, we focus on moral emotions which we experience vis-à-vis the actions of others, like anger, indignation, sympathy or schadenfreude. A common feature of these moral emotions is that all these require considerations of good and bad or wrong and right.[103]

Classification[edit]

Fritz Heider[118] proposed a classification of moral emotions by identifying their presumed cognitive antecedents.[108] According to this, moral emotions are strongly determined by three concepts, that is, ought, effort, and goal-attainment. Considerations of ought (i.e., right and wrong), either vis-à-vis one’s own or other persons’ actions, include evaluations of whether a morally positive or negative goal is present. Furthermore, human actions differ with respect to the amount of effort or intensity with which such goals are pursued. Finally, the respective goal, be it right or wrong from a moral perspective, can be attained or not attained. Ought, effort and goal-attainment explain large amounts of variance in moral emotions. Two other conceptual elements help to classify the variety of moral emotions, namely -

  • the target of the emotion
  • the evaluative or signal function the emotion serves

Moral emotions can be classified according to their target: Emotions evaluating one’s own actions or characteristics, such as guilt, pride, regret or shame, have been referred to as self-directed emotions or actor-emotions.[119] In contrast, emotions that are directed at other person’s actions or characteristics, such as admiration, anger, schadenfreude, scorn, or sympathy, have been labeled as other-directed emotions or observer emotions.

Moreover, all moral emotions contain an evaluative function: That is, positive moral emotions are elicited following one’s own (actor emotions) or another person’s (observer emotions) morally positive behavior, i.e., actions meeting or exceeding positive moral standards like help-giving to someone in need or investing effort to attain a morally positive goal. In contrast, negative moral emotions occur after one’s own (actor emotions) or other’s (observer emotions) morally negative behavior, i.e., transgressions of moral standards like lying or cheating or not investing effort to attain a positive goal.[120][121]

Determinants[edit]

It turns out that sympathy and schadenfreude occur when a positive goal is not attained. In contrast to sympathy, schadenfreude also arises in situations when a negative goal is not attained.[122][123] While non-attainment of a goal is an inevitable prerequisite to experience either sympathy or schadenfreude, effort plays a minor role for the discordant emotions. This finding clearly distinguishes the discordant moral emotions from the remaining moral observer emotions.

Finally, the functional value of the discordant emotions is complex, as functional value and hedonic quality are inverted: For sympathy, which feels bad, we have a positive signal conveying that the respective behavior is morally right. The autobiographical recollections of our participants typically consist of descriptions of positive goals that had been pursued with high effort. In contrast, schadenfreude feels good–however, this emotion signals that another person’s behavior has been wrong. In line with these considerations, the autobiographical recollections of our participants typically depict morally negative goals that have been pursued.[103][117]

fMNR studies[edit]

The Functional magnetic nuclear resonance (fMNR) was utilized only recently to explore the neuroanatomical substrates of the moral sense generally in healthy subjects during tasks involving their moral judgment.[124][125][126] From these studies it emerged that the brain areas potentially involved would be the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the adjacent orbitofrontal, the ventrolateral cortex (OFC/VL), the amygdala, and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC)[127]; It is believed that one of the main roles of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex is to attribute moral and emotional values to social stimuli, anticipate their future outcome, and modulate the mechanism of the theory of mind and empathy, as well as to perceive the other's' intentions.[128][129] The OFC/VL region would mediate aversive responses related to the social context, modify responses based on feedback, and inhibits automatic-impulsive behaviours triggered by the amygdala.[130][131]The amygdala, located in the antero-medial temporal lobes, modulates responses to situations or stimuli perceived as frightening or dangerous, even through the recognition of specific facial expressions.[132][133] The DLPFC would modulate this network, since it is at the basis of the reasoning applied to different moral questions. Furthermore, during some particular tasks in healthy subjects, other brain regions begin to activate in particular the anterior insula,[134] the posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS)[135][136] the anterior cingulate gyrus[137] the inferior parietal lobes and the temporo-parietal junctions[138][139][140] the mesolimbic pathway and the ventral striatum, the precuneus and the posterior cingulate. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex, especially the right one seems to play a fundamental role in the innate moral sense, as it becomes activated during tasks requiring explicit moral judgments, such as the presentation of a “personal” moral dilemma which involves participants provoking a severe harm to someone.[141][142] By contrast, the presentation of general moral dilemmas seems to activate mainly the DLPFC. However, a subsequent work shows an integration between emotional and cognitive processes in both personal and general dilemmas.[143]

Besides the ban to harm others, moral feelings serve to reinforce the rules of the group, by attributing a negative judgment to certain actions, and punishing those who do not follow the rules[144][145][146] “Altruistic punishment” is considered a manifestation of the moral desire for justice and fairness, and seems to involve an increased activation of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex.[147] This altruistic punishment is strongly dependent on the fact that others, especially those who carry a bad reputation, deliberately act against the rules.[148] Although not directly linked to altruistic punishment, sometimes the “Ultimatum Game”, a neuropsychological test, is used to explore the sense of equity, fairness and justice that are related to altruistic punishment. In this case, a player is asked to divide a sum of money with a second player who can either accept or reject this proposal. If the second player rejects, no player receives anything. If the second player accepts, the money is split according to the proposal.[149] The fMNR scans of individuals playing the Ultimatum Game showed that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex appears to be involved in the attribution and interpretation of the others’ intentions through their behavior.[150]

Instantiation of values[edit]

Now, it is hard to understand how it can be the case that being pleased is an intrinsically good-making property whereas being pleased that someone is suffering is not. That the two cases are different is clear, how their difference is to be accounted for, is unclear. It should be noted that neither ‘being pleased,’ nor ‘being pleased that someone is suffering’ are, strictly speaking, properties. Both are expressions of facts, thus, the problem of how to account for a difference between facts is, in the quotation above, simply transposed to the realm of universals. This is why the difference between the two putative properties remains puzzling. Let us, therefore, reformulate the two ‘properties’ as ‘being Pleased at’ and ‘being Pleased at Suffering (of) (at/from)’ (read, for instance,’ Jim is pleased at Joe’s suffering from headache.’) Evidently, these are relational entities, or simply, relations. The first is a simple universal, the second, involving a reference to another relation (‘Suffers at/from’), appears to be a complex universal. For sake of grammatical simplicity, let us replace ‘being Pleased at’ with ‘Enjoys’.[151]

Following the line of argument about the instantiation of the relation value ‘Loves’ it may first be assumed that the content of the relation value ’Enjoys’ is the same in schadenfreude as in other, morally acceptable, cases of enjoyment. Then it can be maintained that the enjoyment of suffering is a true case of enjoyment, and perhaps add that ethical theory must depart here from axiology. Enjoying suffering or pain is always a perverted or an impure kind of enjoyment, or perhaps a combination of sentiments and feelings that is fundamentally, ontologically different from enjoyment, a case of joy, even though there is no separate word for that. Briefly, if we want to maintain the enjoying suffering is not a true case of enjoyment, thus, the value of ‘Enjoys’ is not instantiated, we may insist that another relation value (if it is a value at all) is instantiated.[151]

Secondly, the instantiation of enjoyment as a value is not merely a matter of the content or the relation but also of the relata and the context. Thus, even if the relation ‘Enjoys’ is instantiated and it relates adequate relata, it outlines above, that certain axiological properties instantiated by the relata influence the instantiation of the value of ‘Enjoys.’ Unlike the complexities of ‘Loves,’ the worth of the relatum that is being enjoyed is usually easier to determine. Pain and suffering are in most cases disvalues, even though they might have some value aspect as well (I might enjoy the [sight of? experience of? a] painful tiredness of my son, after a long bicycle tour). But enjoying disvalues is hardly a value. Thus, in the case of ‘Enjoys the Suffering (of) (at/from),’ the value relation of ‘Enjoys’ is not instantiated, after all.[151]

It is here where the fact that in ‘Enjoys the Suffering (of) (at/from)’ we have to deal with two relations becomes relevant. For suppose that the suffering of a human being is well-deserved. Some scholastics opined that the sight of those suffering in the Hell is a source of enjoyment for those in the Heaven. The idea behind the justification for such an enjoyment is that Hell is a result of divine justice and suffering in it is deserved. If one enjoys deserved suffering, one does not enjoy a disvalue, but something worthy (usually, but not always, due to moral reasons and disvalues)16. It is then interpreted that the case in point such that ‘Enjoys the Suffering of a Wicked person’ where ‘wicked’ may be replaced by ‘having negative worth.’ Of course, to arrive at an ethically right judgement of ‘Enjoys,’ one needs to look deeper in the individual case. It is also seen that in ‘deserved suffering ‘desert’ and ‘suffering’ must be delicately and minutiously balanced so that the pain or suffering wipes off, as it were, the transgression. This happens automatically, for instance, when a child feels immediate pain after wounding his finger despite warnings, but often it needs external remedy. In such cases we usually have a number of further requirements which are, of course, not our concern here. It suffices to note here that unless punishment is proportionate to the misdeed, suffering becomes a disvalue and ‘Enjoys’ is not instantiated.[151]

It is also arguable that what gets instantiated in such cases is not ‘Enjoys’ but ‘is morally Satisfied at’ or something like this; or perhaps ‘Enjoys Justice’ which, obviously, would dispel all reservations about enjoying some cases of suffering as being only apparent cases of ‘Enjoys Suffering (of) (at/from).’ The point remains, namely, that a change in the relatum (carrying out a morally evil action, or, repentance), which partly is brought about by further relations’ being instantiated (the wrongdoer suffers from a disease wholly unrelated to his misdeeds) affects the instantiation of the relation. Such a change blocks it.[151]

Thirdly, since enjoyment and suffering (pleasure and pain) are related to one another in an opposite way, it is a reasonable assumption that they play negatively constitutive, blocking roles in one another’s instantiation. But it is impossible to tell in principle where enjoyment ceases and something else (hatred, despise, cruelty) replaces it; or where ‘pure’ suffering ceases and something else (e.g. courage), replaces it. It is psychological suffering that is especially complicated. Think, for instance, of jokes told at another person’s expense in his presence. His suffering might be undeniable, yet the enjoyment of his pain by others might not be entirely bad. Sometimes suffering of this kind is fundamentally, ontologically, tied up to certain values such as comradeship, equality, which surely are values worthy of enjoyment.[151]

It is hardly necessary to consider in detail further cases of “mixed wholes” or “organic wholes” in which suffering or pain and pleasure or enjoyment participate. The analysis of such cases runs on the same track as in the case of malicious pleasure. Take some complicated cases, such as the following: Jim suffers at Joe’s partly undeserved enjoyment of a reward. Or an even more complicated case: Ann suffers at Barbara’s suffering at Cindy’s deserved pleasure. In simple words, Barbara is envious of Cindy and Ann feels ‘compassion’ for her. Such cases can be changed ad libitum: Cindy might suffer at Barbara’s being envious of her and Ann may be compassionate with Cindy. Remaining with the last case, we have to do with three persons (particulars) and four relations -

  1. ‘Cindy (deservedly) Enjoys something‘
  2. ‘Barbara Suffers at Cindy’s enjoyment‘
  3. ‘Cindy Suffers at Barbara’s envy‘
  4. ‘Ann is Compassionate with Cindy(’s suffering)’

Subscribers to the Moorean conception of intrinsic value rooted in organic unities simply declare what normal moral intuitions tell us, namely, that certain propositions designate facts (‘wholes’) that have different values. If pressed, they might say that as newer and newer relations are added, the ‘value’ of the ‘whole’ changes. Thus -

  • is valuable
  • is not
  • is valuable (perhaps)
  • is also valuable

But in virtue of what these changes occur, remains obscure. If values are universals, either properties or relations, then we have a conception by which the differences between (i) through (iv) can be explained. A value is instantiated in one case but not in another. The ontological grounds for this can be different. As in the former example, it may be the content of the value, it may be the relata (in case of relation values) or the context that is responsible for the instantiation of the value or for the blocking of it.[151]

Neural networks[edit]

Many situations in daily life require competing with others for the same goal. In this case, the joy of winning is tied to the fact that the rival suffers. In an fMRI study, participants played a competitive game against another player, in which every trial had opposite consequences for the two players (i.e., if one player won, the other lost, or vice versa). The aim was to disentangle brain activation for two different types of winning. Participants could either win a trial in a way that it increased their payoff; or they could win a trial in a way that it incurred a monetary loss to their opponent. Two distinct brain networks were engaged in these two types of winning. Wins with a monetary gain activated the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, an area associated with the processing of rewards. In contrast, avoidance of loss/other-related monetary loss evoked activation in areas related to mentalizing, such as the temporo-parietal junction and precuneus. However, both types of winnings shared activation in the striatum. The findings extend recent evidence from neuroeconomics by proving that we consider our conspecifics’ payoff even when we directly compete with them.[152]

Ventral striatum[edit]

A competitive situation elicits different types of emotional reactions. Individuals experience empathy while observing failure of a group member, but failure of a rival causes schadenfreude, i.e. pleasure about someone else’s misfortune. Schadenfreude also arises when people can gain from another’s misfortune. [153] Takahashi et al. (2009) demonstrated a stronger correlation between activation in ventral striatum and self-reported Schadenfreude in a situation when misfortunes happened to envied persons[137], and a different study concluded that the striatum plays a role in mediating the emotional consequences of social comparison during competition.[154] Furthermore, in a social group competition an increase of ventral striatum activation was observed during success of the favored team or failure of the rival team, even against a third team.[155] Similarly, the ventral striatum was activated during watching a negatively evaluated out-group member receiving pain[156], and observing others making errors.[157]

With the rising of social neuroscience in recent years, an increasing number of studies have concentrated on neural underpinnings of social comparison.[158][159] Studies found that the activation of the ventral striatum, a reward-related brain region, was affected by variations of social comparison contexts defined by the difference of payoffs between two players who performed the task simultaneously.[160] This finding was supported by following neuroimaging findings that relative reward in social comparison contexts elicits neural responses which show similar patterns with the absolute reward condition.[161][162] Social emotions like schadenfreude and gloating are found to be provoked by positive outcomes in social comparison, while negative outcomes in similar circumstances provoke emotions like envy and jealousy.[137][163] Electroencephalography (EEG) studies on social comparison have described temporal characteristics of outcome evaluation in social contexts, but their findings are heterogeneous. An event-related potential (ERP) study showed larger negative waves elicited by inequitable outcomes than equitable ones.[160] ERP results of another study showed that the feedback-related negativity (FRN) post-stimulus and is larger following losses than gains[164], was significantly enhanced when another anonymous player won.[165] However, a recent study found that social comparison modulated not the FRN, but a later stage of outcome evaluation indicated by the late positive component (LPC)[166]. The conflicting results of these studies show that the temporal hallmarks of social comparison are not yet clear.

Anterior cingulate[edit]

In the case that the “self” is threatened by the superiority of others (envy)[137], there is the involvement of the anterior cingulate area, or of the ventral striatum when the pleasure is derived from the misfortune of others - Schadenfreude. As far as mirror neurons are concerned, this is a class of neurons which selectively are activated by both when an action is carried out by an individual or he/she observes that action being performed by others. The neurons of the observer “mirror” what is taking place in the mind of the observed subject, as if it were the observer that was carrying out the action.[167][168] The areas activated during the observation of behaviour of the other individuals are the anterior rostral portion of the inferior parietal lobe, the inferior part of the anterior central gyrus, and the posterior part of the inferior frontal gyrus. In some cases, the activation of the anterior area of the inferior frontal gyrus and of the dorsal premotor cortex have been reported. The ability of the human brain to self-activate when the emotions of others are perceived, expressed through facial mimicry, gestures, and the tone of voice, and the ability of immediately decoding this perception in “visceromotor” terms, enables every individual to act according to the so-called “empathic participation”.[142][169] This represents a form of bio-social behaviour, prior to linguistic communication, that characterizes and triggers inter-individual relations, which are at the basis, perhaps, of all social behaviours. It must be underlined, however, that, as fascinating as all this might be, these are only hypotheses, given that mirror neurons have been found only in motor areas.[170]

Sensitivity[edit]

Social comparison is a prerequisite for processing fairness, although the two types of cognition are associated with different emotions. Whereas social comparison induce envy, the perception of unfairness elicit anger. Yet, it remains unclear whether people who tend to have a strong sense of fairness also tend to compare themselves more with others.[171]

Fairness[edit]

Fairness is a typical aspect of interpersonal interaction. Research on economic games depict that people expect fairness in wealth allocation and are willing to sacrifice self-interests to punish unfair behaviors.[172] The ultimatum game (UG) is a classical paradigm for investigating preference for fairness.[173] In the UG, one player, the responder, chooses whether to accept or reject a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ reward allocation offered by another player, the proposer. Some argue that rejection of unfair offers reflects inequity aversion that propels participants to equalize the payoff distribution, even if it means zero payoff. Others propose a reciprocity model in which individuals could be kind or unkind to others; this model emphasizes that strong reciprocators are willing to sacrifice their own resources in order to reward fair and punish unfair behavior.[174] A recent study found that the rejection of unfair offers is considered a means to avoid subjugation to the proposer, but this is not the case for reciprocity.[175] Indeed, fair (prosocial) and unfair (antisocial) punishers coexist in the ultimatum game[176], proving that there is more than one motivation behind rejection in the UG.

Social comparison[edit]

Although social comparison is an essential component of fairness sensitivity and any theory of fairness should be formulated by incorporating some kind of comparison, the precise role of trait social comparison in fairness sensitivity is not clear. For example, different emotions caused by different types of social comparison (i.e., self-advantageous comparison, self-disadvantageous comparison and equivalent comparison) can affect decision-making, such as schadenfreude and envy.[177] If some individuals tend to compare with those below them, these individuals show stronger empathy (unhappiness at another's misfortune) or stronger schadenfreude (happiness at another’s misfortune). Similarly, individuals feel strong envy or strong vicarious pleasure when they compare with those ahead of them. Intuitively, an individual who cares much about relative outcomes could be either a fair-minded person or a person who enjoys taking advantage of others. Thus, delineating the relationships among different types of social comparison and various types of fairness has important theoretical and pragmatic implications.

It has been found that, envy, a painful emotion activates the pain region (i.e., the anterior cingulate cortex) and schadenfreude, a rewarding reaction, activates the reward region (i.e., the ventral striatum).[178]

Cost-benefit analysis[edit]

If a goal is successfully achieved following direct competitive aggression, perceived utility should also be enhanced by continued peer interest or desire for the contested-for outcome, a subtle schadenfreude type endowment effect. Continued peer interest endowment is modified by peer group composition, similar to what is proposed whereby Schadenfreude and its opposing partner envy are more likely to arise when fellow competitors are self-relevant, salient conspecifics.[179] Ventral striatal activations are also noted in two-person tasks that are not explicitly competitive, but where monetary payout information is provided to both players at the end of each trial. If person A's payout is higher than that of person B, striatal activity increases in person A and decreases in person B, independent of the actual financial amount being awarded.[180]

When resource valuation, pre- and post-competition, is viewed in this multi-factorial light, it helps to explain the “joy” of winning, or conversely the enhanced feelings of loss, unfairness or pain after losing. Whereas in non-competitive situations one might gain/lose a resource.[181] In non-pathological conditions, competitive aggression is an instrumental behavior, used to achieve an outcome that aids in self-preservation. Inherently it is a selfish behavior, with a binary outcome for the individual: good or bad. Reduced in this way, it is intuitive that competitive aggression utilizes reward-based reinforcement learning systems in the brain. As competitive behavior neuroscience progresses, it will be important to test social and nonsocial choice tasks in the same participant, in the same session, to delineate any uniquely social computations. Moreover, highly salient, realistic resources should be included in the non-social choice tasks to ensure directional attention that is on par with the directional attention prompted by the prospect of winning. It will be important to parse temporal sequences of activation in terms of pre-choice, choice, and post-choice, and to examine functional coupling between reward networks and the instrumental aggression network that is predictive of competitive dispositions.[182]

Shared activation[edit]

Shared activation in the ventral striatum is when participants won a trial and received a monetary gain, and when winning in loss frame trials (which incurred a loss to the opponent) is that this activation is associated with general reward processing.[183] According to a recent concept it indicates an enhanced motivational value in the form of incentive salience attribution to stimuli perceived at that moment.[184]

We need to take into account that humans are not exclusively motivated by material self-interests, but that people often also care for the well-being of others.[185] Moreover it was found that individual differences in prosocial value orientation are important for the allocation of resources between self and others, and that amygdala, striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex play a critical role mediating this effect.[186][187]

Studies demonstrates that two distinct brain networks are engaged when people process of two types of winning in the game, i.e., own monetary gain and others-monetary loss. A medial-frontal network demonstrated activation for own monetary gain, while a temporo-parietal network was more involved in response to others’ monetary losses. Both types of winning in the game shared activation in the VS which represents the “joy of winning” for outperforming someone else during competition. Alternatively, this provides with the misfortunes of opponents were treated as reward and elicited schadenfreude.[152]

Justice sensitivity[edit]

Personality characteristics of social comparison sensitivity and justice sensitivity were positively correlated. Studies show that individuals who have a tendency to compare themselves with others, have a strong sense of justice, and vice versa. There were two key pieces of evidence that social comparison and fairness sensitivity do have a common effect in human decision-making.[171]

Victim-sensitive and observer-sensitive participants are more likely to be concerned with disadvantageous inequality. Individuals who dislike disadvantageous status have a tendency to compare with others. Similarly, when individuals are concerned with advantageous inequality (i.e., beneficiary and perpetrator), they also have a tendency to compare with others. As with the fear of being exploited, observer and beneficiary sensitivity also reflect a concern for self.[188] Social comparison sensitivity regulates the effects of perception of unfairness on outcomes and might deepen the experience of negative feeling caused by victim and observer injustice sensitivity. Even someone in advantageous status will inevitably compare the self with others, and the emotion associated with the compensation of a victim or retaliation against a perpetrator will prompt the individual to feel concern for others.[189]

Scientific studies[edit]

A New York Times article in 2002 cited a number of scientific studies of schadenfreude, which it defined as, "delighting in others' misfortune". Many such studies are based on social comparison theory, the idea that when people around us have bad luck, we look better to ourselves. Other researchers have found that people with low self-esteem are more likely to feel schadenfreude than are people who have high self-esteem.[190]

A 2003 study examined intergroup schadenfreude within the context of sports, specifically an international football (soccer) competition. The study focused on the German and Dutch football teams and their fans. The results of this study indicated that the emotion of schadenfreude is very sensitive to circumstances that make it more or less legitimate to feel such malicious pleasure towards a sports rival.[191]

A 2011 study by Cikara and colleagues using fMRI examined Schadenfreude among Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees fans found that fans' showed increased activation in brain areas correlated with self-reported pleasure (ventral striatum) when observing the rival team experience a negative outcome (e.g., a strike out).[192] By contrast, fans exhibited increased activation in the anterior cingulate and insula when viewing their own team experience a negative outcome.

A 2006 experiment about justice served suggests that men, but not women, enjoy seeing "bad people" suffer. The study was designed to measure empathy, by watching which brain centers are stimulated when subjects inside an fMRI observe someone experiencing physical pain. Researchers expected that the brain's empathy center of subjects would show more stimulation when those seen as "good" got an electric shock, than would occur if the shock was given to someone the subject had reason to consider "bad". This was indeed the case, but for male subjects, the brain's pleasure centers also lit up when someone got a shock that the male thought was "well-deserved".[193]

Brain-scanning studies show that schadenfreude is correlated with envy in subjects. Strong feelings of envy activated physical pain nodes in the brain's dorsal anterior cingulate cortex; the brain's reward centers, such as the ventral striatum, were activated by news that other people envied had suffered misfortune. The magnitude of the brain's schadenfreude response could even be predicted from the strength of the previous envy response.[194][195]

A study conducted in 2009 provides evidence for people's capacity to feel schadenfreude in response to negative events in politics.[196] The study was designed to determine whether or not there was a possibility that events containing objective misfortunes might produce schadenfreude. It was reported in the study that the likelihood of experiencing feelings of schadenfreude depends upon whether an individual's own party or the opposing party is suffering harm. This study suggests that the domain of politics is prime territory for feelings of schadenfreude, especially for those who identify strongly with their political party.

In popular culture[edit]

In "When Flanders Failed", a 1991 episode of The Simpsons, Lisa Simpson defined "schadenfreude" to Homer as "shameful joy", repopularizing the term, which had faded from English publications since spiking after World War II.[197]

In the 2003 Tony Award-winning musical Avenue Q, the song "Schadenfreude" parodies the language instruction songs of Sesame Street.[198] The song, sung by characters Gary Coleman and Nicky, describes schadenfreude as "German for 'happiness at the misfortune of others'". In the song, schadenfreude is also described as "making me feel glad that I'm not you" and "people taking pleasure in your pain". The characters use examples like "D'ja ever clap when a waitress falls and drops a tray of glasses?" and "Don'tcha feel all warm and cozy, watching people out in the rain?" as being schadenfreude.[199]

A 2005 episode of the television drama Boston Legal carries the term as its title. In the episode, attorney Alan Shore describes this condition to a jury in order to describe the only way they could possibly attain a guilty verdict against his client.[200][201]

A 2005 episode of the television police drama Cold Case also carries the term as its title. The episode describes this condition as the media's motive for the quickened prosecution of a doctor on his wife's murder and the re-opening of the case years later after new evidence comes to light.[202][203]

New Orleans-based blackened thrash metal band Goatwhore has a track titled "Schadenfreude" in their 2014 album Constricting Rage of the Merciless.

In 2013, electronic music group The M Machine released a track titled "Schadenfreude" on their album Metropolis, Pt. II.

In 2008, American electronic-industrial group Aesthetic Perfection released a track titled "Schadenfreude" on their second album A Violent Emotion.

The video game Team Fortress 2 has a taunt in the game called "The Schadenfreude" where classes will point and laugh.

A frequent guest on the BS Report and other Bill Simmons related podcasts named John O'Connell (aka JackO, aka The Gregarious Raconteur) refers to his own sense of schadenfreude frequently as it relates to watching athletic teams he dislikes either losing games or making poor decisions with personnel.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes

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Further reading[edit]

  • Smith, Richard H. 2013. The Joy of Pain: Schadenfreude and the Dark Side of Human Nature. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-973454-2