When their pain becomes our pleasure: a functional approach to understanding intergroup schadenfreude

Hall, Alexandra (2012). When their pain becomes our pleasure: a functional approach to understanding intergroup schadenfreude Honours Thesis, School of Psychology, The University of Queensland.

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Author Hall, Alexandra
Thesis Title When their pain becomes our pleasure: a functional approach to understanding intergroup schadenfreude
School, Centre or Institute School of Psychology
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2012-10-10
Thesis type Honours Thesis
Supervisor Eric Vanman
Total pages 73
Language eng
Subjects 1701 Psychology
Abstract/Summary How one reacts to the misfortune of another person appears strongly dependent on group membership. Research suggests that empathic responses are often magnified for ingroup members and attenuated for outgroup members. Additionally, it appears that the emotion of schadenfreude—pleasure derived from the suffering of others—can often be experienced in response to outgroup misfortunes. In an intergroup context, it also appears that these emotions of empathy and schadenfreude are not always hidden from view. The aims of the current thesis were to (1) examine intergroup empathy and intergroup schadenfreude, and (2) examine why these emotions are sometimes exhibited to other groups, and what the effects are of such demonstrations. To address this second aim, this thesis proposes a novel explanation for the existence of intergroup schadenfreude, based on the functional purpose of emotions. The current study manipulated group membership using artificial laboratory groups. Participants’ emotional responses to the misfortunes of ingroup and outgroup members were measured using facial electromyography (EMG). To examine the effects of intergroup schadenfreude, participants were also shown another person’s reaction to each misfortune scenario: participants in the intergroup schadenfreude condition were exposed to the outgroup continually smiling at the misfortunes of the participants’ ingroup members. By contrast, participants in the control condition did not experience the outgroup systematically demonstrating schadenfreude at the participants’ ingroup members. The key finding of the current study was that participants who were the target of schadenfreude (participants in the intergroup schadenfreude condition) retaliated by demonstrating greater smiling responses back towards the misfortunes of outgroup members. These smiling responses were not genuine positive affect, but rather, were posed smiles. This finding is interpreted in light of the functional explanation of intergroup schadenfreude proposed by this thesis. Theoretical contributions, limitations of the study, and directions for future research are discussed.
Keyword Pain and pleasure
Group membership
Intergroup empathy and schadenfreude

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Created: Wed, 27 Feb 2013, 15:26:33 EST by Mrs Ann Lee on behalf of School of Psychology