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


ByeBye said...

omg ... you just describe me and I had no idea I was like that. I just went to Heidi's blog and laff at her misfortune. I actually found it funny shame on me... dang I need some HELP! WOW, interesting I thought I was sincerely caring of others but seems as though I find some misfortune funny lol and I'm still laughing.

Fallen Angels said...

Well, I had a comment, I'm sure I did! After reading the previous comment I've lost it. I am in shock that not only would someone admit they are laughing at another's misfortune, but to actually name who?!?


Donna said...

Good heavens, Sera, I agree with you. Geez.

Laura:) said...

I don't know about pranks being "mild", some pranks are horrible and can even lead to killing another. Poping and scaring some one-funny. Dropping fake bodies off an overpass-scary and dangerous.

I teach Defensive Driving and have heard it all.

Wendy C. said...

I have no problem admitting it...although I didn't realize how immature/messed up I apparently our home, when something bad happens to someone we don't like, or who we deem evil, we shout "Shadenfreude!" and laugh!

In our strange little world - Shadenfreude is tantamount to "revenge from the universe"

Just being honest...

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Envizable,
Heidi has a way of writing that ligthens her sorrow. I wonder if you found her wording funny...not the situation. I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt. I think you are a very caring guy.

Dear Sera and Donna,
I like to think my blogpal Envizable is more empathic than he let on in his comments. Like I said, Heidi is also a wonderful blogfriend who mentioned in her most recent post about some truly aggravating experiences. I don't think he was laughing AT her. But maybe if envizable returns he can better explain things.

Dear Laura,
I think you are right and I am going to correct the pranks being mild bit. You must have unbelievable stories from your experiences.

Dear Wendy,
I think being honest about things, even not so lovely things about ourselves, are great stepping stones. Helps us to see and perhaps change. But the research now gives biological reasons for such a response. PS: Wow, you are so bendy!


chase said...

I think sometimes certain people can push you to certain limits and when they get their commuppance, so to speak, you can't help but think karma is involved and so its "ok" to feel like they got what they deserved.

Joe definitly "feels" that way far more than I do. I don't like to see people hurt or going thru bad situations, even if they've pisse dme off, but he revels in it...I told him he could affect his own karma with crap like that, but he just thinks its funny.

Like I said, sometimes we feel someone deserves it, but that doesnt make it right. Liek Joe said it was good for the guy in Israel who had a stroke. (forgive me for forgetting his name)....I just thought that was a most terrible thing to say....but then when you get into politics, its more difficult, most people would say Saddam should die, or they laugh at his situation now.


I think we could all probably use a bit more empathy and compassion for our fellow wo/man.

chase said...

oh yes, and Heidi is someone who comes across to me as a very empathetic person...VERY much I'm hoping that envisable didn't mean it in a bad way. Going to see what's going on in Heidie's world now. ;)

Playground in my Mind said...

I feel people's pain to the point of making it my own. Renee

kath said...

This is facinating..

I am a huge believer.. ( and experiencer .. is that a word) of empathy..

It is an essential part of energy work.. Sometimes the hard part is tempering it.. or turning down the level.. before it makes you a little crazy..

I do not like to see or hear about anyone experiencing misfortune..
with the exception of a few elected officials....... maybe? ( sorry.. i just do not like GW Bush)

for_the_lonely said...

I echo Renee's comment...I can often feel one's pain, sorrow, happiness, etc...I am what is called an " empath"...Lightfeather told me that after I had many questions about's like a heightened sense of awareness and sensitivity to other's feelings..that is the best way I can explain it !LOL

I hope that you have a great weekend!


Wendy C. said...

I have had to work hard to train myself out of thinking I can feel others pain...because I realized one day that we can never really know how others feel (pain, happiness, whatever)...we only project what we think onto them, so we end up really just feeling sorry for ourselves...and, making a short story long here, now, when someone who has been rotten to me presonally trips and drops her newspaper...or accidentally tucks the back of her skirt into her undies...I laugh!

jumpinginpuddles said...

its a hard one to answer isnt it its easy to dislike and want the baddies in life to get what they deserve, ive often seen many a football match ending in a fight because one persons belief of the baddies isnt the same as someone elses.
At the same time no one wants innocent people hurt but as always everyone beliefs in others pains and joys is a personal one.
Whether people admit it or not there is always an element in everything where we take a deep breeath and say im so glad that wasnt me, in that case everyone has some elements of schadenfreude

lady in satin said...

I don't enjoy witnessing people's misfortunes at all!! I try to help in any way I can.

A Flowered Purse said...

Oh wow, I do empathize like that!! I can usually walk in a room and feel if there is tension or sadness and quickly pick up on the mood and follow suit.
Have a great weekend

Anonymous said...

Interesting post today my dear. I can't stand to see anyone hurt. It always ends up with some part of my body hurting for them...and contrary to what someone else posted above, it doesn't make me feel sorry for myself at all. The pain in temporary however it is very physical. I will admit, however, to wishing my grandfather well in hell on occasion. : ) As always, thank you for this place. It is amazing. Peace.

Nancy said...

I think envizable needs some much needed attention! But, not here. Sorry Deb, I think he is an ass!

I think that women have more empathy in general, because of our ability to be mothers. On the other hand, some women can be really hateful, especially to other women.

I just heard this report as well. I think some men do think this way. I am happy that not all do!

dulcimist said...

I wonder what role social learning plays in this. I guess I'm asking the old chicken and egg question of which came first.

I'm a firm believer that some aspects (not all) of gender roles are learned rather than inherent. For instance, men are often left with a very narrow path to walk to be seen as 'real men'. Be tough, don't show emotion, all that stuff.

Could it be that we (men) are conditioned to not have empathy and that has led to these biochemical differences, rather than the other way round?

Obviously, the nature/nurture question is not simple. There are often elements of both that contribute to a given trait. Then again, maybe I'm just reaching for a leg of hope in light of the notion that my gender is inherently empathy challenged.


alan said...

Some years ago I read about a writer asking celebrities what they thought the most important word in the English language was. I don't know what became of the book, but I remember reading that Hedy Lamarr's answer was "Empathy".

I read her autobiography (Ecstasy and Me) 10 years ago or so, and learned a lot from it about myself. She spoke of all the time she spent in therapy, and that finally what she learned was that life is like a pendulum, and no matter how far it swings in one direction, it will swing back equally in the other, never stopping in the middle. That's my summation, anyway! Wish I had learned it before I was 40!


astrorat said...

i am wondering if men are wired that way as "evolution" had thought them to heartlessly kill for their food (for all the right reasons of course). this research sheds light as to why there are more male serial killers than female. But, the research that you have pointed out seems really interesting. Might provide an alternate (perhaps a link) explanation to “heartless” violence, than that the testosterone theory does. :)

Heidi said...

Hi Deb and fellow bloggers..Concerning Envizable..I'm not sure what to think, my mind/thoughts are all focused for Monday. I'm sure he meant no harm in his comments.

Schadenfreude : I'm to co-dependant to laugh at others misfortune..Sometimes I think I care to much. Passing through people's blogs and hearing their life issues can be overwhelming at times. Then comes one that just overpowers you. You can't help but to reach out as I did with Gayla's Blog. Then the outpouring of support followed...Pure Yellow.

Deb..This topic is another winner. :)

Dr Dork said...

Interesting thoughts, Dr Serani.

I am someone, who is thought of as compassionate, who considers himself compassionate, even altruistic...yet I enjoy "the bad guy getting their comeuppance". Unashamedly. I think this is an important distinction...but nonetheless quite a debatable matter ethically, either way.

Do you mind if I link your blog once I, to use an Australianism, "pull my finger out" ie get my own runnning ?

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Chase,
I think the karma link is a good point.

Dear Renee,
I can relate. Learning how to set limits can help empathy stay in more healthy boundaries.

Dear Kath,
I COMPLETELY understand.

Dear Sarah,
That reminds me of the Star Trek episode "The Empath".

Dear Wendy,
It is true that we can't know or exactly feel what another is feelings, but we can relate or sense it on very deep levels.

Dear Jumpinginpuddles,
The experience of " so glad that wasn't me" is healthy and normal. But to snark at another's misfortune is another thing. Good point you are making.

Dear Lady In Satin,
Yup, me too.

Dear Dianna,
We call that intuition and attunement. They are great skills and instincts to have.

Dear Traci,
I can understand retaliation, anger and the need for all that...its different than Schadenfreude. I wish you peace with it all.

Dear Nancy,
I know Envizable so I'm going to give him some room on this...but there are many people "wired" in different ways that seem to endow them with less empathy.

Dear Dulcimist,
I agree that the nature/nuture plays a role as it always does. but what is fascinating is the neurobiological underpinnings.

Dear Alan,
Wow, that sounds like such a great book. I hope you can jog your memory some time to remember the name of it.

Dear Astrorat,
So much of who we are is biological and evolutionary...I agree that this can explain so much about behavior. Isn't it cool?

Dear Heidi,
So glad you commented on your thoughts!!!!


Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dr. Dork,
I already linked you to mine, so sure, link me to yours!! Your blog is going to be something special, I can tell.


Deb S. said...

I've never wanted to see someone get hurt, even someone who has hurt me. But I know a lot of people who are just the opposite, male and female.

Females who enjoy someone else's pain seem to be meaner. With males, it appears to be "sport." Females seem to take personal joy in it. But, then, that's just my observation.

On the other hand, when it comes to movies or fiction, there are times I root for the "bad boy." Think Rober De Niro, Al Pacino, Chaz Palminteri. :-)

Rose said...

This is an interesting study. IS that what this means: if I dislike someone and they slip and fall, not hurt themselves but get embarrassed, am I displaying Schadenfreude? {giggling}But seriously I am the ultimate feel sorry for people. My own family tells me to stop worrying over everything. I am much better now but still I tend to feel bad about others. said...

Bah! Screw em!

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear DCS,
There is a breed of young girls out there who truly enjoy the mean aspect of peers and hurting them. Sadly, I see the fallout of it in my clinical work. For men, it is sometimes as sport, you are right in that point.

Dear Rose,
Yup...and I've been there too. Balance is everything in life. Feeling too much for others isn't good nor is not caring at all regarding others.

Dear Tombotts,


Id it is said...

I haven't really given this a thought....but now that I think of it, I'd rather not know/ be aware of the pain of another, but if I'm made aware of it I can't help but feel it, something I try to avoid...which should be normal because who would consciously seek out pain!

Stacy-Deanne said...

This was very interesting, Deborah. Let me be honest then. When I was a child, I would get a tinge of joy when someone I disliked had something happen to them. Not anything serious or fatal of course. I mean along the lines if someone at school had teased me a lot and they got in trouble at home or with the school, then I would get happy. But then, after seeing how bad they felt, I would feel guilty. Sometimes we think that if we can go back and confront people that hurt us or witness something bad happening to them it would be the best payback. The truth is, if you have any sympathy at all, you won't find this at all fulfilling. Instead you'll walk away feeling worse than them after seeing the problems they went through. It's just like when people want to confront their childhood bullies, they get so excited at the chance but chicken out most times because it just isn't worth it because these people are already paying for the things they've done in some way or another. Now as an adult I do not ever have these feelings because I believe in karma (what goes around comes around). I don't have to wish bad things on people now or do I waste my time to because I know that if they really deserve it, karma is already embedded in their destiny. Not that I wish bad things on people, but what goes around ALWAYS comes around. I'm going to add your link to my blog.

Godwhacker said...

Schadenfreude is a complex emotional response. I still feel it when the level of the harm to another is small. As I have grown more mature and more compassionate, it is something that I have consciously learned to moderate especially when the level of harm to the other person is serious.

Grumpy Old Man said...

I see (heh heh!) that the commenters are really using up your bandwith (hee hee!).

If I hear you dropped a glass when you were in a hurry to go out and had to stop and sweep up the whole kitchen, I'll REALLY get a belly laugh!

Schadenfreude? Nonsense! I googled it and only got 1,800,000 hits. And of course there is a Schadenfreude website.

danny said...

I think I belong to the former. It pains and disturbs me seeing people suffer expecially those who are close to me.

I have a question Dr. Serani. I am a painter and literary writer especially poetry. I was just talking to a friend, also a painter and literary writer, and we shared the same experience. When we paint, we cannot write in-between times as if our creative power for writing is exhausted for visual creativity, and vice versa. Is creativity for visual is the same for words (any literary medium)?



Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Id It Is,
I can totally see your point of view.

Dear Stacy-Deanne,
I am a big believer in what you do comes back to you. If it is goodness and kindness that will return, and if it is malice and hatred, they will find you as well. Thanks for the link, I'll add you to my bloglist as well.

Dear Godwhacker,
I have to agree -- as I have aged, my perception and experience of things has evolved as well.

Dear GOM,
I remember you posting on this subject a long time ago. I thought only us psychologists knew about this phenom!

Dear Danny,
The creative experience is one that taps psychic energy, emotion, and all our senses. It makes perfect sense that if you are expressing in one modality with passion, that you'd need time to refuel thereafter. It would be hard to continue the process so quickly with another mode of expression. Hmmm...that was wordy, I hope it made sense!


annie said...

why do the results not really surprise me?

i have learned a great deal more about this strange word in the last 5 years. our "leader" and his pals are living proof of it's presence.

i feel thatcompassion and empathy for those who suffer are dissapearing from our culture.

danny said...

Dear Dr. Deb,

Thanks for enlightening me on my question about creative expression on visual art and literary. My deepest thanks also for your wishes.


dawn said...

i kinda, sometimes think it's funny when people fall, but only after finding out if they're ok or not. im a very clumsy person, so im always doing something stupid, and i have to say, that a lot of people laugh at my misfortune. i think now, ill start to realize though if it's more men or women doing the laughing at me :)

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Annie,
There are those who feel that we are extinguishing certain traits because the way we nurture is lacking. Hatred, violence, selfishness. I hope they are wrong, but I can't help to sometimes think it does hold water.

Dear Danny,
My pleasure.

Dear Dawn,
I can laugh at myself when I drop something or do something that clumsy too...but if I laugh it's okay that others laugh. It upsets me if they laugh first, before I have a chance to process what's going on.


Josie said...

I think it's because women have that mothering instinct so we feel for those in pain although I've been known to laugh at my friends.

CrackerLilo said...

Love the Nelson Muntz picture!

I know I've felt schadenfreude, and I'm female. I haven't seen a difference in the people around me, but that only really says anything about the people around me. It's not a nice emotion, but I'm glad to be able to use every one in my repertoire.

east village idiot said...

In my experience both sexes have there share of joy in schadenfreude. Have you ever heard the song schadenfreude from the Avenue Q musical? It is hilarious.

east village idiot said...

In my experience both sexes have there share of joy in schadenfreude. Have you ever heard the song schadenfreude from the Avenue Q musical? It is hilarious.

for_the_lonely said...

Dr Deb,
I have a few questions to ask you regarding me going to a psychiatrist for my panic attacks/ it possible for you to e-mail me? ... thank you!!!


jane said...

Schadenfreude sounds like a nasty word! Even if I did it, I don't know if I'd admit it! hehe
I don't actually do that, not in the examples you said. But I know there are times when I've gloated in someone else's misfortune, but I can't remember when. I bet it's cuz that same someone put a damn curse on me! See? It's no wonder I gloated while I could. ;)

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Josie,
There are biological reasons why women may be more empathic. I love technology and how it can show us these things.

Dear Crackerlilo,
I love the Simpsons. Could be one of the greatest shows ever.

Dear East Village,
That song is *so* hilarious.

Dear Sarah,
Will do.

Dear Jane,
I don't know the exact german translation, but I'm gonna track it down.


Aidan said...

A lot of British-based blogging the last few days has set off the 'schadenfreude' siren in my instinctive mind - namely, the revelation that one of the senior politicians in the Liberal Democrats party has been cheating on his wife (and two kids) for a six-month affair with a male prostitute. Which, barely days after he almost-unobtrusively withdrew from his party's leadership race he never had a chance of winning, seemed at first to be the splashing on of infinite injuries into the slightest of flesh wounds...
But for all he can be condemned, both for sordid-ness should you so wish, or basic utter foolishness and deception, I have felt a little uncomfortable at the glee hurled his way. Or more to the point, his family's way.
Okay, so it may well be a glum day when yer average punter can't get a guilt-free chuckle or so out of an MP being caught with a rent boy.
But the story, while farcical on its simplest level, still has uniwtting participants. Who will suffer.
So there's a balance to be had. Between healthy specticism, I suppose, and healthy optimism. So long as it's not all abstract airy-fairyism, but equally, not all pathetic brutalism.
Er... where was I again...?

Anna Mason said...

This doesn't surprise me. I'm going to pass it along to the men I know. :-)

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear AKR,
I guess Schadenfreude is enjoying a bit of worldy buzz!

Dear Anna,
It is an interesting psychological and neurological phenom.


Grumpy Old Man said...

The ultimate in schadenfreude are the "Old Philospher" routines of Eddie Lawrence. One here.

ByeBye said...

Ok I had to come back to this comment... I think sometimes we take things way out of content... now I'm not laughing at Heidi but I took it light hearted. It was funny looking at it from a different angel--- maybe it was the way she wrote it. We all find something funny in our misfortunes and if we can't laugh at ourselves or the situation then we're not being real.

... and I liked what Dr. Serani had to say, maybe it was her wording and maybe I seen myself in the same situations and laugh--- dangit people lighten up. Life isn't alway as hard as we see it, and I think most of you took me wrongly but hey thats your perception. I like Heidi and I have nothing against her but that is how I perceive her blog entry initially. THANK YOU.

so... what all that said and done I will share my thoughts of this particular post about Nancy calling me an ass on my blog, and I won't argue with you on that cause I can be sometimes but my advice it to lighten and stop looking for an attack.

ByeBye said... more thing and I'll get off Doc platform, I defended myself maily because of Nancy comment if you care to read it click, its call people and their opinions. As for Heidi, a special message for you at the end of that post.

Yall be blessed!

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear GOM,
Checking out the link now.

Dear Envizable,
I know you and know how you meant what you said. You are a gentle soul. Sometimes how we write is not really read well.