Is your 2-year-old looking a little smug? A new study reports that those in that age group have the emotional capacity to take joy in another’s misfortunes.
The study, conducted at the University of Haifa in Israel, found evidence that “schadenfreude,” the feeling of enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others, which was once believed to be a sophisticated emotion developed at age 7, actually can be displayed as early as age 2.
“The study strengthened the perception that schadenfreude is an evolutionary mechanism that develops within us as we cope with situations of inequality,” said Simone G. Shamay-Tsoory, a professor at the University of Haifa and the head of the study, in a press release.
According to Big Law Newsline, to conduct the experiment the researchers formed 35 groups that were each made up of a mother, her child and a same-age friend of the child.
In one situation, the mother would encourage the children to play together and then would start ignoring them by reading a book out loud to herself. Then the mother would intentionally spill water on her book and make the children think it was an accident.
In the other situation, the mother would read out loud to her child’s friend and then “accidentally” spill the water. In response to the water incident, the mother’s child demonstrated happiness by jumping, clapping and rolling on the ground.
The researchers found that only in the second situation the children showed feelings of schadenfreude.
The Deccan Chronicle report on the study said that what made the children happy was that their peer had stopped hearing the story. The researchers believe that this strengthens the belief that schadenfreude is a social development in reaction to inequality.
“Social comparisons, in which we compare what we have to what others have, as well as emotions of justice, develop at a very early age and constitute positive evolutionary mechanisms to cope with inequitable situations,” said Shamay-Tsoory, according to RT News. “Because social-comparison reactions are linked to character traits like self-esteem and altruism, it’s possible that people who think less of themselves are more likely to suffer from feelings of schadenfreude.”
The press release from the University of Haifa reported that researchers also found that jealousy was another emotion that occurred during the experimental situations.
During the study children tried to force themselves between their mothers and the books or would play with their mothers’ hair while they were reading to their friends. According to the news release, these findings demonstrate that jealousy is a stronger emotion than schadenfreude.
Email: email@example.com, Twitter: @clark_kelsey3