Scientific Understanding of Consciousness
Consciousness as an Emergent Property of Thalamocortical Activity

Envy and Schadenfreude


Science 13 February 2009: Vol. 323. no. 5916, pp. 937 - 939

When Your Gain Is My Pain and Your Pain Is My Gain: Neural Correlates of Envy and Schadenfreude

Hidehiko Takahashi,1,2,3 Motoichiro Kato,4 Masato Matsuura,2 Dean Mobbs,5 Tetsuya Suhara,1 Yoshiro Okubo6

1 Department of Molecular Neuroimaging, National Institute of Radiological Sciences, 9-1, 4-chome, Anagawa, Inage-ku, Chiba, 263-8555, Japan.
2 Department of Life Sciences and Bioinformatics, Graduate School of Health Sciences, Tokyo Medical and Dental University, 1-5-45 Yushima, Bunkyo-ku Tokyo, 113-8549, Japan.
3 Precursory Research for Embryonic Science and Technology, Japan Science and Technology Agency, 4-1-8 Honcho, Kawaguchi, Saitama, 332-0012, Japan.
4 Department of Neuropsychiatry, Keio University School of Medicine, 35 Shinanomachi, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 160-8582, Japan.
5 Medical Research Council (MRC)–Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, CB2 7EF, UK.
6 Department of Neuropsychiatry, Nippon Medical School, 1-1-5, Sendagi, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, 113-8603, Japan.



We often evaluate the self and others from social comparisons. We feel envy when the target person has superior and self-relevant characteristics. Schadenfreude occurs when envied persons fall from grace. To elucidate the neurocognitive mechanisms of envy and schadenfreude, we conducted two functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies. In study one, the participants read information concerning target persons characterized by levels of possession and self-relevance of comparison domains. When the target person's possession was superior and self-relevant, stronger envy and stronger anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) activation were induced. In study two, stronger schadenfreude and stronger striatum activation were induced when misfortunes happened to envied persons. ACC activation in study one predicted ventral striatum activation in study two. Our findings document mechanisms of painful emotion, envy, and a rewarding reaction, schadenfreude.

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