Why we Laugh at Other's Misfortune
A new study explains why we laugh when someone epically fails. Turns out, we're just jealous.
Researchers from MIT and Princeton University have found more proof that we're plain hardwired to take pleasure in the pain of others, especially if it's someone we feel envious toward. This response has long been known as schadenfreude.
For the study, researchers used electromyograms to analyze how big their participants smiled as they looked at pictures of people associated with different stereotypes -- drug addicts (indicative of disgust), elderly (pity), students or Americans (pride) and rich professionals (envy). The participants were told that these respective people had certain things happen to them, like winning five dollars (positive), getting soaked by a taxi (negative), or using the restroom (neutral).
"We found that people did smile more in response to negative than positive events, but only for groups they envied," said researcher Susan Fiske of Princeton University.
In a second study, participants were asked to rate how they felt about the same people and events on a scale of 1 to 9. Similar results emerged -- participants felt the best about negative things happening to the rich yuppie types. Unsurprisingly, they felt the worst when hearing about good things happening to that same person.
"A lack of empathy is not always pathological. It's a human response, and not everyone experiences this, but a significant portion does," Mina Cikara of MIT said.
The study was published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.
Do you find it easier to laugh at someone you envy?