Getting pleased over misfortune of those you envy is biological

ANI| Updated: Oct 29, 2013, 12:45 PM IST

Washington: Researchers have found that people are actually biologically responsive to taking pleasure in the pain of others - a reaction known as " Schadenfreude ."

Through a series of experiments PhD student Mina Cikara and Princeton professor Susan Fiske measured the electrical activity of cheek muscles and showed that people smile more when someone they envy experiences misfortune or discomfort.

Fiske, co-author of the study and the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School, said that jealousy and envy are highly correlated.

In the first experiment, the researchers examined participants' physical responses by monitoring their cheek movements with an electromyogram (EMG), which captures the electrical activity of facial movements when an individual smiles.

Participants were shown photographs of individuals associated with different stereotypes: the elderly (pity), students or Americans (pride), drug addicts (disgust) and rich professionals (envy).

These images were then paired with everyday events such as: "Won five dollars" (positive) or "Got soaked by a taxi" (negative) or "Went to the bathroom" (neutral). Participants were asked how this would make them feel, and their facial movements were recorded.

In their second experiment, the researchers used self-reporting and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) - which measures blood flow changes associated with brain activity - to determine whether participants were willing to harm certain groups.

Participants viewed the same photographs and events as the first study and were asked to rate how they felt on a scale of one to nine (from extremely bad to extremely good).

Similar results emerged: Participants felt the worst about positive events and the best about negative events in regards to the rich professionals. Two weeks later, the researchers followed up with an online survey in which the participants were presented a scenario-based game that involved the option to hurt another person, such as through electric shocks in order to spare several others.

The study has been published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.