You see a pedestrian on a bike going across the street, nowhere near the cross walk. You see him going towards the sidewalk without noticing a curb is in front of him and BAM! falls face first and his bottom half flings forward over his head like a scorpion attacking its prey.scorpion His groceries are everywhere on the street and at that moment everything stops for the pedestrian, onlookers and you the witness. At that moment something happens, YOU GIGGLE! Quickly retracting the giggle, you help the pedestrian and go on your way. Minutes pass and you think to yourself “Why did I just laugh at someone else’s misfortune?” That pleasure is called Schadenfreude” and is usually frowned upon in modern civilization, but hey, everyone has done it one point in time. But what makes us laugh about it? Is it the feeling of you being in the pedestrian’s point of view? Or is it because you, the witness, saw the pedestrian do a funny face before he hit pavement? Or could it be because he had a nice bike and you wished it on him?

Caitlin A.J Powell, A professor for Saint Mary’s College California in the psychology department, did her research with Richard H. Smith, of the psychology department for University of Kentucky, on how hypocritical issues bring up Schadenfreude. They use Rev. Ted Haggard, a reverend from Colorado Springs who had an affair on his wife, as an example of when people laugh and mock a man who is supposed to be an icon of moral but commits adultery which is against his practices. Powell and Smith see the irony in the situation with the reverend getting caught, and quickly noticed how the tables have turned and note. “This pleasure seems created by the disgrace of someone who has wagged the finger at others for moral failures and who then, quite delightfully, gets caught for the very same thing. (Powell and Smith)” This quote is showing that The Rev., once looked upon as a saint from his peers, is being laugh at by the same people he condemned as sinners because now he gets to know how a sinner is looked down upon. In this case, when the mighty fall for the crimes they accused others of, it’s just a payback schadenfreude.

dog cone

Kathryn F. Jankowski, Department of Psychiatry, Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine, Kyoto, Japan, and Department of Psychology, University of Oregon, Eugene, USA, alongside with correspondence Hidehiko Takahashi, MD, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine, explain Schadenfreude in multiple emotions. The one emotion, that if anyone was a witness to this incident would feel, is embarrassment for the pedestrian. The way Jankowski and Takahashi break down how embarrassment is how it affects the situation at hand. “Embarrassment is generally evoked by less severe, but more personal, social transgressions (Jankowski and Takahashi)” By knowing this, anyone experiencing this can diffuse the social transgressions that the pedestrian would take personally and turn the situation into an accident instead of a biker eating asphalt. Pick up the biker, ask if he’s okay and hey, maybe get him to laugh about the situation cause if you got the pedestrian to laugh at his own misfortune, you just won that emotional battle.


In a case study done by Hoogland, Charles, Department of Psychology for University of Kentucky, he compares the severity of the incident to his subject’s laughter saying this. “A third issue concerns whether Schadenfreude and gluckschmerz can follow from severe misfortunes, beyond a rival’s loss or an unsuccessful play, argue that, with regard to schadenfreude, it occurs only with minor misfortunes. (Hoogland, Schurtz and Cooper)” At the very least, his study showed that people only laughed at the minor incidents as if they were watching a slapstick comedy routine. But when sever incidents came into sight situation awareness made the laughter go away and the cognitive thinking begin. Thus, proving the saying “Its all fun and games until someone loses an eye,” truthful, it also explains the emotions from “fun” to “loses an eye” in solid detail.


From the School of Psychology, Flinders University, Berndsen, Mariëtte studies another feeling of Schadenfreude but in the perspective of the individual after the laughter is done and said.  “Appraisals of blame for immoral behavior can evoke moral emotions such as shame, guilt, and remorse in the agent. Experiencing moral emotions implies that the agent cares about the welfare of others. (Berndsen and Feather)” This shows that if the person having the misfortune is feeling remorse, that individual must have been doing something they shouldn’t have been doing to lead them to this incident. Taking it back to our pedestrian, he didn’t use the crosswalk like the law states he should when crossing a street and that situation could lead to guilt to our pedestrian’s mind and from now on take precautionary actions before crossing, which is a good thing for further safety of a human being.


In the final emotion I evaluated Feather, Norman, Faculty of Social and Behavioral Sciences, School of Psychology, Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia, who helped Berndsen in the article about guilt used in the paragraph above, and he uses the emotion of deservingness to describe how the pleasure is distributed. “Deservingness ratings were higher when the plagiarism was detected and punished (a negative outcome) than when the plagiarism was undetected and the outcome for the student was positive. (Feather and McKnee)” Students got surveyed asking how would they feel if a close colleague plagiarized a paper and got away with it and/or got caught cheating and the results are as posted in the quote before. The students wanted justice no matter what cause, and they were to imagine they didn’t like this colleague very much I might add, but the pleasure in seeing this student get busted was more satisfying for the student to handle making this Schadenfreude act a justifiable laughter is the majority agrees.

schadenfreude greeting

With all studies coming to a result, laughter over a pie in the face isn’t as bad as laughing at someone drowning with your foot on top of their head. The severity of the situation can make an enormous difference in what to laugh at and what to initiate with caution towards. But if you can make the individual involved in the incident and make them laugh at their own misfortune then you avoid the adverse effects of Schadenfreude like guilt and remorse and make a bad situation into a better one, maybe even a learning example for the future.


Annotated Bibliography

Berndsen, Mariëtte and Norman T Feather. “Reflecting on schadenfreude: serious consequences of a misfortune for which one is not responsible diminish previously expressed schadenfreude; the role of immorality appraisals and moral emotions.” Motivation & Emotion VOL 40 (2016): 895-913. Article. This article is writen on about how morality crosses with laughter can cause a negative effect if the severity of the situation is extreme to where laughter is the last thing needed. Article is product and published by The Australian Psychology Society

Feather, Norman T and Ian R McKnee. “Deservingness, liking relations, schadenfreude, and other discrete emotions in the context of the outcomes of plagiarism.” Australian Journal of Psychology Vol, 66 Issue 1 (2014): 18-27. Article . This article was a reflectant of how the emotion of deservingness plays into the role of schadenfreude. test studies and questionaires were given to students of a college and used role playing as a deciding factor for the deservingness of certain situations

Hoogland, Charles, et al. “The joy of pain and the pain of joy: In-group identification predicts schadenfreude and gluckschmerz following rival groups’ fortunes.” Motivation & Emotion Vol. 39 (2015): 260-281. Document. Also shows how severity can halt a laughter but that some laughter is okay when the situation is not all serious. A pie in the face example would be a situation that is acceptable to laugh at than a broken arm situation.

Jankowski, Kathryn F and Hidehiko Takahashi. “Cognitive neuroscience of social emotions and implications for psychopathology: Examining embarrassment, guilt, envy, and schadenfreude.” Psychiatry & Clinical Neurosciences. May2014, Vol. 68 Issue 5, p319-336. 18p. (2014): 319-336. Article. Article that ties schadenfreude with the emotion of embarrassment and evaluates other emotions as well. all other emotions can be read within this article and their studies.

Powell, Caitlin A J and Richard H Smith. “Schadenfreude Caused by the Exposure of Hypocrisy.” Self and Identity Vol. 12 Issue 4 (2013): 413-431. Article. This article shows how hypocrisy can also lead to a laughter made out of spit and justice gone right. It takes a look at a power in the religious world and how morality is quickly destroyed with one action.


P.S I want my 10 extra credit points.