Bad News Delights Meyers: Understanding the Psychology Behind Schadenfreude

Have you ever felt a sense of satisfaction when someone you dislike experiences misfortune? This feeling is known as schadenfreude, a German word that translates to “harm-joy.” While it may seem like a negative emotion, schadenfreude is a common human experience that can be triggered by a variety of situations. In this article, we will explore the psychology behind schadenfreude and why bad news delights some people.

The Psychology of Schadenfreude

Schadenfreude is a complex emotion that involves feelings of pleasure or joy at the misfortune of others. According to psychologists, schadenfreude is often triggered by feelings of envy, resentment, or rivalry towards the person experiencing misfortune. When someone we dislike experiences a setback, it can provide us with a sense of satisfaction and even boost our self-esteem.

Research has shown that schadenfreude is not limited to negative emotions towards others. In fact, it can also be triggered by positive emotions such as admiration or respect. For example, if we perceive someone as being too perfect or successful, we may feel a sense of satisfaction when they experience a setback or failure.

The Role of Social Comparison

One of the main drivers of schadenfreude is social comparison. When we compare ourselves to others, we often focus on those who are doing better than us. This can lead to feelings of envy and resentment, which can be relieved when those individuals experience misfortune.

Social comparison can also lead to feelings of superiority. When someone we dislike experiences misfortune, it can reinforce our belief that we are better than them. This can provide us with a sense of validation and boost our self-esteem.

The Influence of Culture

Schadenfreude is not a universal emotion and can be influenced by cultural factors. In individualistic cultures, such as the United States, schadenfreude is often seen as a negative emotion. However, in collectivistic cultures, such as Japan, schadenfreude is more accepted and even celebrated.

In collectivistic cultures, the success of the group is often prioritized over individual success. Therefore, when someone experiences misfortune, it can be seen as a way to bring the group closer together and reinforce social norms.

The Dark Side of Schadenfreude

While schadenfreude may provide temporary satisfaction, it can also have negative consequences. Engaging in schadenfreude can lead to feelings of guilt and shame, especially if the person experiencing misfortune is someone we care about.

Schadenfreude can also lead to a lack of empathy towards others. When we take pleasure in someone else’s misfortune, we are less likely to feel compassion towards them and may even justify their suffering.


Schadenfreude is a complex emotion that can be triggered by a variety of factors. While it may provide temporary satisfaction, it can also have negative consequences and lead to a lack of empathy towards others. Understanding the psychology behind schadenfreude can help us recognize when we are experiencing this emotion and take steps to mitigate its negative effects.

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