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3 types of Schadenfreude and when you feel them
Schadenfreude is a common feeling, but not all of it is the same.
- A new model of schadenfreude suggests that there are three sub-types of "harm-joy."
- The study also suggests that depersonalization, the ability to view others as less than human, is the key element of schadenfreude.
- The model could lead to a deeper understanding of schadenfreude and psychopathic traits.
Most people would probably deny it, but everybody has felt a bit of joy at the pain or failure of another person at least once. Think back to when a person you don't like had a misfortune, when the coworker you envy missed a deadline, or when your stupid neighbor opened a store for left-handed people and nearly went broke. Admit it, you smiled a little to think of them falling flat.
This sensation of feeling joy at other people's misfortune is called schadenfreude and means "harm-joy" in German. Lots of people experience it, but our understanding of it is still a bit spotty.
The three-part model
A group of psychologists at Emory University have proposed a new three-part model to explain schadenfreude. Their proposal, published in New Ideas in Psychology, suggests that the motivation behind the feeling is important and that an element of viewing others as less than human is often at play.
Drawing upon decades of work, the researchers suggest that three different motivations can drive the feeling of schadenfreude; aggression, rivalry, and justice.
Aggression based schadenfreude involves group identity. Often, improving the group you're in can require the defeat of other groups. This kind of Schadenfreude is the one you might feel when your favorite team's rival loses a game to somebody else and can't make the playoffs, even though your team is already long out of the running.
Rivalry based schadenfreude is similar but distinct. This one is tied to individual achievement and jealousies. It occurs when you go out of your way to do better than another person, such as when you make a move in a game that improves your lead over one player in particular, but that doesn't help you otherwise. Like when you play The Settlers of Catan with somebody and place a settlement right where they wanted to build one, even though there was a better option for you.
The third kind is justice based and revolves around the joy we feel when somebody who we think deserves some comeuppance, say a successful person who we all know robs, cheats, steals, and overcharges for lifesaving drugs who then goes to prison.
Who is most likely to feel Schadenfreude?
While everybody has a little every now and again, the literature showed that people with the traits of Machiavellianism, narcissism, or psychopathy, together known as the "dark triad," feel schadenfreude more often. This is also true for the sadistic and cruel.
The researchers propose that feeling schadenfreude requires us to dehumanize the person whose failure we are laughing at. People with any of the dark triad traits would be practicing that dehumanization already. Lead author Shensheng Wang explains how:
One possibility is that when people experience Schadenfreude, they undergo a [temporary] process similar to that experienced by individuals with high levels of psychopathic personality traits: motivated by certain situational and to a lesser extent dispositional variables, the perceiver tends to dehumanise the victim, temporarily losing the motivation to detect the victim's mind, much like a psychopath
They further suggest dehumanization might be the fundamental aspect of this emotion, though further research is needed before that can be proven.
The researchers also explained that people with low self-esteem are more likely to feel schadenfreude when they see other people fail. This is because the success of others can be a threat to their sense of self and seeing the mighty fall can be a comfort.
So, am I a psychopath for feeling Schadenfreude?
Not at all. Explaining another study on schadenfreude, Dr. Mina Cikara explained that "A lack of empathy is not always pathological" and that schadenfreude is "a human response and not everyone experiences this. But a significant portion of us do." You might want to be worried if you feel it regularly, but a little smirk at the failure of somebody you envy every now and again doesn't mean you're turning into a monster.
How can we use this model?
It is human nature to feel envy and feeling schadenfreude can be a part of that emotion. Knowing that this familiar feeling is tied to some of the darker elements of human nature can give us insights into how the darker side of the human personality relates to emotions we all have.
Dr. Wang explained the potential benefits of the study by saying, "By broadening the perspective of schadenfreude, and connecting all of the related phenomena underlying it, we hope we've provided a framework to gain deeper insights into this complex, multi-faceted emotion."
So don't feel too bad for feeling a little schadenfreude every now and again, but beware of doing it too much.
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Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
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In a recent study, researchers examined how Christian nationalism is affecting the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A new study used survey data to examine the interplay between Christian nationalism and incautious behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The researchers defined Christian nationalism as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
- The results showed that Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior.
A pastor at the chapel of the St. Josef Hospital on April 1, 2020 in Bochum, German
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images<p>Christian nationalists, in general, believe the U.S. and God's will are tied together, and they want the government to embody conservative Christian values and symbols. As such, they also believe the nation's fate depends on how closely it adheres to Christianity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unsurprisingly then, in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, conservative pastors prophesied God's protection over the nation, citing America's righteous support for President Trump and the prolife agenda," the researchers write.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Correspondingly, the link between Christian nationalism and God's influence on how COVID‐19 impacts America can be seen in proclamations about God's divine judgment for its immorality―with the logic being that God is using the pandemic to draw wayward America <em>back </em>to himself, which assumes the two belong together."</p><p>The logical conclusion to this kind of thinking: America can save itself not through cautionary measures, like mask-wearing, but through devotion to God. What's more, it stands to reason that Christian nationalists are less likely to trust the media and scientists, given that these sources are generally not concerned with promoting a conservative, religious view of the world.</p><p>(The researchers note that they're unaware of any research directly linking Christian nationalism to distrust of media sources, but that they're almost certain the two are connected.)</p>
Predicted values of Americans' frequency of incautious behaviors during the COVID‐19 pandemic across values of Christian nationalism
Perry et al.<p>In the new study, the researchers examined three waves of results from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey. One wave of the survey was issued in May, and it asked respondents to rate how often they engaged in both incautious and precautionary behaviors.</p><p>Incautious behaviors included things like "ate inside a restaurant" and "went shopping for nonessential items," while precautionary behaviors included "washed my hands more often than typical" and "wore a mask in public."</p><p>To measure Christian nationalism, the researchers asked respondents to rate how strongly they agree with statements like "the federal government should advocate Christian values" and "the success of the United States is part of God's plan."</p><p>The results suggest that, compared to other groups, Christian nationalists are far less likely to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior during the pandemic, and the second leading predictor that Americans avoided taking precautionary measures."</p><p>But that's not to say that religious beliefs are causing Americans to reject mask-wearing or social distancing. In fact, when the study accounted for Christian nationalist beliefs, the results showed that Americans with high levels of religiosity were likely to take precautionary measures for COVID-19.</p>
Limitations<p>Still, the researchers note that they're theorizing about the connections between Christian nationalism and COVID-19 behaviors, not documenting them directly. What's more, they suggest that certain experiences — such as having a family member that contracts COVID-19 — might change a Christian nationalist's behaviors during the pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Limitations notwithstanding, the implications of this study are important for understanding Americans' curious inability to quickly implement informed and reasonable strategies to overcome the threat of COVID‐19, an inability that has likely cost thousands of lives," they write.</p>
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