The Dark Side: Schadenfreude

Posted on November 3, 2018

Schadenfreude is an emotion that has fascinated both professionals and lay people for quite a while, precisely because it is an emotion that has been associated with psychopathy. At first glance, it is easy to see why: it is thought of as a sense of pleasure or joy that one finds in the sufferings of others.
Recent research propose that this emotion may offer another crucial perspective in our understanding of human nature. It is believed to be made up of three components, namely justice, aggression and rivalry, which develop separately and also contributes to personality functioning in their own ways. At the core of these traits, the cognitive mechanism of dehumanization appears to be a key factor in inducing the emotional response of schadenfreude.

Dehumanization is a form of cognitive reappraisal that judges another party as undeserving of the usual human rights and consideration, usually because they are not perceived to have or display the typical attributes and characteristics of a fellow human, which by extension, makes it easier for the judger to treat them as less than worthy of deserving empathy or human rights.
The tendency for dehumanization may be due to an individual disposition, meaning one is more likely to dehumanize another person due to certain inherent traits; or it can be situational, which means that the tendency to dehumanize depends on the circumstances, for e.g. military personnel during war times. Hence, the sort of circumstances that increase the likelihood of schadenfreude, such as conflict between groups, appear to support the dehumanization theory.

Psychology research proposes three main theories to explain schadenfreude. Firstly, envy theory explains schadenfreude by suggesting that self-evaluation increases when the people we envy are perceived to be humbled by an event because it removes the threat to our self-esteem.

Secondly, deservingness theory associates schadenfreude by satisfying individuals’ desire for justice when they perceive that people on the receiving end of misfortunes deserve the unpleasant event.

And lastly, inter-group conflict theory posits that schadenfreude occurs after one’s personal in-group is perceived as superior to a rival out-group, such as during sporting events or political elections, which boosts an individual’s self-esteem.

In conclusion, what these three theories have in common suggest that schadenfreude is driven by a lack of empathy for others. This suspension of empathy may be temporary, as seen in situational indifference during extreme circumstances like in wartime; or it may take on a more recurring form in terms of personality traits that predispose an individual to be more indifferent towards the plight of others.

Category(s):Antisocial personality, Other

Source material from Medical Xpress

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