"Why do we laugh at Idols?": Self-evaluation and schadenfreude following another’s misfortune in the media

J.W. Ouwerkerk, Wilco W. Van Dijk

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In the media we are often confronted with reports about the misfortunes of others. Hence, an important question is how we react to the mishaps or setbacks of others. We may often feel sympathy, but sometimes we experience pleasure or so-called Schadenfreude following another’s misfortune. Frijda (1988) argues that an event will only elicit positive emotions when it serves self-relevant motives. In line with this notion, we argue that another’s misfortune may serve people’s striving for a positive self-evaluation. Accordingly, two experiments show that people experience more schadenfreude following another’s misfortune in the media after failure feedback on a self-relevant task rather than when no feedback (Study 1) or success feedback (Study 2) is provided. Moreover, Study 2 shows that this effect is stronger for individuals with chronic low self-esteem, thereby providing further evidence for a self-enhancing motive underlying the experience of schadenfreude following another’s misfortune in the media.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - May 2008
EventInternational Communication Association: Communicating for Social Impact - Montreal, Canada
Duration: 22 May 200826 May 2008


ConferenceInternational Communication Association


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