Even toddlers experience schadenfreude.

By Seriously Science | July 8, 2014 6:00 am
In the EQUAL condition the mother reads a book aloud to herself while the kids are playing (Figure 1a) the mother is then signaled to take the glass of water and accidentally spill water over the book (Figure 1b). In the UNEQUAL condition the mother placed the peer on her lap and embraced the child while reading a story aloud to that child (Figure 1c) and then she was signaled to accidentally spill water on the book (Figure 1d). At both conditions the child were allowed to play freely.

In the EQUAL condition the mother reads a book aloud to herself while the kids are playing (Figure 1a) the mother is then signaled to take the glass of water and accidentally spill water over the book (Figure 1b). In the UNEQUAL condition the mother placed the peer on her lap and embraced the child while reading a story aloud to that child (Figure 1c) and then she was signaled to accidentally spill water on the book (Figure 1d). At both conditions the child were allowed to play freely.

You are probably familiar with the concept of “schadenfreude,” a German word that means “taking pleasure in the misfortunes of others.” You’ve probably  felt schadenfreude yourself at some point, especially when the person undergoing the misfortune is a target of your envy or hatred. But at what age does this complex emotion develop? In this study, the researchers set out to determine whether very young children also experience schadenfreude. To do so, they created an experimental situation in which a child’s mother was either a) reading a book alone, while the child played with a playmate in the same room, or b) reading a book to the child’s playmate (see Figure at left). In both cases, the mother accidentally spills water onto the book, rendering it unreadable. The scientists then watched the children’s expressions and rated their emotions. As you might guess, the child whose mother was reading the book took more pleasure in the water spilling when the book was being read to his playmate, presumably because he was jealous of the demand on his mother’s attention. The response was seen in children as young as two years old, suggesting that schadenfreude in response to “termination of an unequal situation” develops early in life. 

There Is No Joy like Malicious Joy: Schadenfreude in Young Children

“Human emotions are strongly shaped by the tendency to compare the relative state of oneself to others. Although social comparison based emotions such as jealousy and schadenfreude (pleasure in the other misfortune) are important social emotions, little is known about their developmental origins. To examine if schadenfreude develops as a response to inequity aversion, we assessed the reactions of children to the termination of unequal and equal triadic situations. We demonstrate that children as early as 24 months show signs of schadenfreude following the termination of an unequal situation. Although both conditions involved the same amount of gains, the children displayed greater positive expressions following the disruption of the unequal as compared to the equal condition, indicating that inequity aversion can be observed earlier than reported before. These results support an early evolutionary origin of inequity aversion and indicate that schadenfreude has evolved as a response to unfairness.”

Related content:
NCBI ROFL: Parental behavior at kids’ sports events.
NCBI ROFL: A scientific analysis of kids in a candy store.
NCBI ROFL: An analysis of uptight preschoolers.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: feelings shmeelings, told you so
  • Don’t Even Try It!

    So….?

    • Devon

      So…. (to:Don’t Even Try It!) Your icon is offensive, and had I known you in person when Obama was reelected, I would have gloated at Romney’s defeat. (and yours by proxy) I’m hard wired since early on to recognize and dislike inequality, so seeing the Tea Party and GOP in general cannibalize themselves gives me great pleasure. From a purely scientific standpoint of course. (Additionally, an ellipsis in proper grammar consists of only three points, not four and requires no additional ending punctuation. That is, of course, the whole point of the use. In only 7 keystrokes and a racist emoticon, you’ve already given me enough about you that I know I wouldn’t bother to pee on you if you caught fire. Best wishes!)

      • melanieaolson

        just before I looked at the receipt ov $8130 , I
        didn’t believe that my sister woz like actualy bringing in money part-time from
        there pretty old laptop. . there aunts neighbour has been doing this 4 only
        about 22 months and at present repayed the mortgage on their appartment and
        bought themselves a Chrysler . see here C­a­s­h­f­i­g­.­C­O­M­

      • Ganesha_akbar

        so?

      • Olivia

        Calm down Devon..

  • QXylashe1964

    before I looked at the check of $8543 , I accept
    …that…my neighbour woz like they say truley earning money parttime on their
    apple labtop. . there sisters neighbour has done this 4 only 19 months and by
    now cleared the debts on their house and bourt a gorgeous Ford . visit this
    site C­a­s­h­f­i­g­.­C­O­M­

  • benmlockhart

    just before I looked at the receipt ov $8130 , I
    didn’t believe that my sister woz like actualy bringing in money part-time from
    there pretty old laptop. . there aunts neighbour has been doing this 4 only
    about 22 months and at present repayed the mortgage on their appartment and
    bought themselves a Chrysler . see here C­a­s­h­f­i­g­.­C­O­M­

  • r212

    Are you saying I’m a toddler?

  • Olivia

    This is kind of obvious if you’ve even seen kids.. they laugh when you fall down or hit your arm on a table or something..

  • Juliet Crome

    Olivia: Kids laugh when people fall down usually not out of schadenfreude, but for the same reason we laugh at practical jokes or people falling down in cartoons- all humor is due to response to conflict (as jokes always present some form of conflict) – falling down is a more basic example of this than verbal jokes.

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