(Scientific American Mind) Their Pain, Our Gain: Why Schadenfreude Is Best Enjoyed in Groups
By Emily Anthes | December 2, 2010
You’ve heard that misery loves company. Enjoying others’ misery does, too
There is no English translation for the German word schadenfreude—that small, private rush of glee in response to someone else’s misfortune. But everyone recognizes the emotion, even if he or she might not have a word for it (or admit to feeling it). Tabloids have long relied on people’s fascination with public failures: moralizing politicians or entitled actresses disgraced for their peccadilloes. And in recent years schadenfreude has become a prime-time staple, with models, boyfriends, parents, overweight people and recovering addicts, among others, routinely humiliated on cable television.
Scientists who study schadenfreude are learning that this secret happiness at another person’s loss has biological underpinnings. The feeling registers in the brain as a distinct form of pleasure, a satisfaction comparable to that of eating a good meal.
(Psychology Today) Your Pain, My Gain
Your brain’s pleasure center lights up when your rival suffers.
As much as the recent disgrace of Tiger Woods, one of the most successful athletes in the world, shocked us, many people relished watching his downfall. Would his personal anguish have been savored as much if he were an unknown caddy? Recent neuroscience research suggests not; we most enjoy observing the misfortune of someone we envy.
As social creatures, humans spend a considerable amount of time and energy evaluating our place in society’s pecking order. We judge ourselves and others on personal qualities, achievements or possessions. Although social evaluation can serve as a strong motivational tool to improve our own stock, it is often accompanied by innate and deeply-entrenched resentment of others: envy. Bertrand Russell called it ‘an unfortunate facet’ of human nature. As a painful and unpleasant emotion embodied by feelings of inferiority, experiencing the green-eyed monster can decrease our overall life satisfaction.
When we envy someone, we may wish that we also had whatever advantage they possess, or that they lose it. Consequently, although we may feel pity when hard luck falls on someone we envy, we also may experience schadenfreude, or pleasure at another’s suffering. Because social comparison is inherently relative rather than based on intrinsic value, someone’s loss can be as gratifying as our own personal success: either way, we’re moving up the hierarchy.
This video was posted on youtube two days ago and has already gotten over 800,000 clicks. Why? Because it shows top failure moments in the month of November. See if you can stop yourself from laughing!
Is everyone guilty of this? Does everyone always feel pleasure at the expense of someone else’s misery? Or is it only people you compare yourself to? And if the answer is yes, does that mean our pleasure is a sign that the other person is weak and hence, less fit to survive? Are we biologically… Darwinian?