Why we all secretly enjoy each other’s misery

Let us not be faint: we all get happy with the bad luck that another person experience. Why is it that we are such a covert sadist who is tormented by the misery of others?

Both men and women get pleasure from someone else’s failure. This can be about a character in a series that is being deceived, a celeb who dreads himself in a drunken way or about the haircut blunder of a friend to a colleague who is being drilled into a work presentation.

The concept of damage fraternity is still being investigated ‘for only 20 years, which makes it a relatively new area of research for psychologists.

Although quite a few studies have been done about the intention of this not too fine emotion.

Jealousy and uncertainty are repeatedly highlighted as a trigger for misery. “If you are not comfortable with yourself, other people can become unbearable because you automatically compare yourself to them, which makes you feel worse,” says Catherine Chambliss, professor of neuroscience and psychology at Ursinus College, Pennsylvania.

Our value

Researchers from the University of Kentucky, in turn, link it to a phenomenon that they call “mate value”. Evolutionary science teaches us that men in their search for a female partner place a little more value on physical characteristics.

Women then seek a partner with a high social status. Every failure that reduces the physical attractiveness of girlfriends gives us an edge on finding a partner, and we like that.

Our value as a partner (“degree value”) increases with respect to our blundering girlfriend. The same applies to men, but that fun is rather situated in terms of power and social prestige.

But why do we enjoy all the drama in TV series and films? Or celebrities who once again cheated their partner or got down? Also, here because we get a better feeling about ourselves when other people experience bad luck.

According to researchers, this would have to do with uncertainty again. They also state that people with a lot of self-confidence usually have a lot less fun out of it.


The pleasure we derive from the misery of celebs is also called the ‘ground level culture’: the phenomenon whereby anything above the average is attacked. And must be kept short because they are considered ‘better than the rest’.

They would have more talent than average. And that is something that we can hardly accept because of our own insecurity, so we enjoy it double and thick when things go badly.

That all sounds pretty negative now, but malicious pleasure is usually innocent, according to most researchers.

Only when you hate someone and therefore see you having fun. Or when you consciously play a role in the misery of others, it becomes a different matter, but that is not the issue.

This is a setback that you basically have nothing to do with, but briefly gives you some pleasure. Usually not even consciously. Still not our best feature, but certainly nothing to worry about.

Medical Daily, De Volkskrant, The Guardian
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