The conversations of life

Ever wondered why you enjoy someone else’s bad luck? Science has the answer


If you’ve ever laughed at someone whose skirt has blown up in the wind (you know who you are) or giggled when someone accidentally treads on something nasty, you’re not alone.

It’s called schadenfreude – German for ‘harm joy’ – and now researchers think they know why we take so much pleasure in this emotion.

Sifting through three decades of research, they say it develops from three related emotions – aggression, rivalry and justice.

These start to develop when we are babies – studies have actually shown babies prefer puppets who punish other puppets that exhibit anti-social behaviour (what kind of experiments are they putting these tots through?)

Coming out on top

As we grow older, we become more sociable but this also leads to us making friends and other in-groups and leaving out others. Rivalry appears by the ages of five and six with research finding kids will sacrifice a ‘resource’ to get one over another child.

By the time we hit adulthood, most of us have learned to hide this tendency to give up something just to spite someone else – but we still do it.

So, experiencing schadenfreude isn’t unique – and the researchers say as long as we feel empathy for others and relate to them, feeling a little spite every now and then isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

However, they did find that it often overlaps with other ‘dark’ personality traits, such as sadism, narcissism, and psychopathy.

So, laughing at someone if they drop their ice cream on the ground – okay. Laughing if they’re being crushed by a giant ice cream – not so good.

With a background in nursing, Annie has spent over 20 years working in the health industry, including the coordination of medical support for international TV productions and major stadium events, plus education campaigns with a number of national health organisations. In recent years, she has also taken time out of the workforce to be a full-time carer, giving her first-hand experience of the challenges and rewards of this role.

Leave A Reply