Friday, January 20, 2006
Yet another difference between the sexes: Schadenfreude
Do you feel others' pain, empathize with what they are going through? Or do you, instead, feel good or experience a secret delight when someone gets hurt?
A recent study says it depends on whether you're a man or a woman. The phenomenon of witnessing someone's misfortune is called Schadenfreude. And according to research done at University College in London, men* seem to enjoy watching others and their misfortunes more than women.
Using brain-imaging techniques, researchers compared how men and women reacted when watching other people suffer pain. If the sufferer was someone they liked, areas of the brain linked to empathy and pain were activated in both sexes. If it was someone they disliked only women showed empathy while men showed a surge in Schadenfreude.
The research which has just been published in the science journal Nature , illustrates that empathic responses to others are not automatic, but depend on an emotional link to the person who is observed suffering.
Now, I often enjoy when the bad guy or gal in a movie, book or television show gets their comeuppance, but I certainly don't include myself in enjoying watching a real person fall down a flight of stairs, step in unseen doggie-poo or get reamed out by the boss. I actually feel bad for them. I like to think I'm low on the Schadenfreude scale. But this is an interesting study and can help to explain things from the mild, like a joke , to the extreme, like terrorism.
* I like to think that the men I know don't Schadenfreude often!
Nature advance online publication; published online 18 January 2006 doi:10.1038/nature04271