Whether it’s laughing at fail videos
or relishing those times
when a rival sports team lost the big game,
we all enjoy watching others’ misfortunes.
There’s actually a word for this,
it’s called schadenfreude,
literally it means enjoyment obtained from troubles of others.
It sounds twisted, and it is.
It’s even more twisted than you might think.
Shadenfreude is nothing new.
Chances are, it’s been hardwired
into our way of thinking for millions of years.
One of the strongest arguments, to my mind,
is that our brains evolved over millions of years
in a situation where you had small groups of humans
scrabbling out an existence against other small groups of humans
in a relatively harsh environment.
In order to survive that,
you’d need your group to be really tight-knit,
and this would both select for something like empathy,
feeling for the suffering of other group members,
and also extreme aggression towards others,
something like shadenfreude.
Shadenfreude and empathy
are two sides of the same coin.
They’re both a response we feel to seeing someone else’s trials and misfortunes.
However, there’s one big difference between the two.
Shadenfreude isn’t something parents teach their children,
yet researchers know that babies as young as two can experience it.
All it takes is a little competition to trigger the reaction.
For one study, two-year olds watched as their mothers doted on other infants.
Later, the mothers were toldto spill water on the infants.
When they did, the onlookingtwo-year olds got so excited
that some of them literally bounced with joy.
It’s funny, but it’s not hard to see
how this childish rivalry could develop into
something more sinister in adults.
And that’s exactly what Emile Bruneau studies.
He’s traveled to many parts of the world to investigate conflicts,
including Americans and Mexicans on the Arizona border,
Israelis and Palestinians in Israel,
and Democrats and Republicans in the U.S.
It doesn’t matter where the conflict is or what it’s about,
he’s found that the root of all of it is shadenfreude.
We are extraordinarily motivated by
who belongs to our group and who belongs to the other group.
We have a strong tendency to think,
not just in terms of me and you,
but in terms of us and them.
And people who identify as them,
I’ll feel more shadenfreude towards them than towards us.
And certainly, that is the type of thingthat drives behavior.
If you feel empathy for somebody else,
you’re motivated to help them if they’re in distress.
Similarly, if you feel shadenfreude,
you’re motivated to harm the other person.
Neuroscientists think they’ve pinpointed
the area of the brain behind all this.
For one study,
Red Sox and Yankees fans watched simulated plays
while a fMRI measured their brain activity.
When a fan saw the rival team fail,
大脑的一块特殊区域 即腹侧纹状体 兴奋了起来
a special area of the brain called the ventral striatum lit up.
It helps process reward and pleasure,
suggesting that the fans wereexperiencing shadenfreude.
The ventral striatum is alsoinvolved with decision making.
Interestingly, fans who showed more activity there also reported that
they were likely to harm a fan of the rival team.
This could explain why shadenfreude
seems to be driving human conflicts and violence worldwide.
But isn’t it time we finally shake off
this archaic way of thinking?
The modern world is very different than
the world that our brains primarily evolved in.
And then right now,
we’re trying to solve these modern day problems with Stone Age psychology.
In an environment that is global and multicultural,
where you have much less conflict,
where cooperation and collaboration can get you much further than conflict,
then yes, I feel like it is not as productive.
Instead, Bruno is exploring
how to use empathy to resolve conflict
and move towards resolutions.
Most recently, what I’ve been really interested in is,
how do we intervene?
And how do we motivate empathytowards the other group?
Interestingly enough, what I’ve found is that
interventions that are directed more at trying to challenge their cognitive perceptions of the other side
are the types of things that open up their empathy.
So it’s almost like the best approach
to opening people’s hearts is first by opening their minds.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that
you can’t laugh at fail videos on Youtube.
But perhaps if we tried to have a
little bit more empathy for other groups,
maybe we could make the world a better place.
[soft piano music]