Ron Kuzar kuzar at RESEARCH.HAIFA.AC.IL
Thu May 15 06:32:04 UTC 1997

This is Yael Wald's response to her query and discussion
on Schadenfreude.
Ron Kuzar
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 15 May 1997 09:07:47 +0300
From: Yael Wald <ywald at>
To: Ron Kuzar <kuzar at>
Subject: Schadenfreude

On May 22, a conference on Pleasure-in-Other's-Misfortune will be held at
the university of Haifa. While i was working on a lecture for the
conference, with the head of the child development center in the
university, we have stumbled upon a question regarding the universality of
pleasure-in-other's-misfortune. Ron Kuzar kindly forwarded this issue to
Funknet.  I would like to thank all those who responded, i can say with
confidence that they have helped us with our pre-research.
The following conclusions were derived from the world-wide responses:

(1) Pleasure-in-Other's-Misfortune probably exist in every culture in
world. However, there are cultural differences in the ability to express
this emotion. Some languages (like Arabic) have created a special word for
the emotion, other's combined two words: joy and misfortune (like German).
In contrast to the neutral messages of joy+misfortune, there are languages
that combined the words evil (or malicious) and pleasure  (or joy),
pointing at the negative social value of this emotion. Some languages (like
English) do not have a single word for schadenfreude, so that if the
speaker wishes to express the existence of this emotion, he or she will
have to combine several words in order to create the expression. These
differences in the limitations on the verbal communication of emotions may
suggest differences in some aspects of emotional behavior.

(2) Not only researchers disagree among them on the definition of
Pleasure-in-Other's-Misfortune, but also languages and cultures. The broad
definition relates this emotion to every joy that arises when a bad thing
happens to somebody else. This includes a wide range of possible examples:
seeing someone slip on a banana, and watching a business competitor fail.
The narrow definition looks at related concepts to
pleasure-in-other's-misfortune such as revenge and envy, and suggests that
pleasure-in-other's-misfortune (in contrast to joy of victory or
accomplishments, and pleasure of funny situations) exists only when there
is some kind of a relationship between the one who suffers and the one who
enjoys the other's suffering. For example: when one's accomplishments or
behavior threatened the other. Not only the definition can vary from
culture to culture, but also the strength of the emotion, and the severity
of the damage that creates the pleasure.

There are many factors influencing pleasure-in-other's-misfortune,
including cultural values, family values, and details of the event such as,
did the sufferer deserved the misfortune, what was the severity of the
damage, what was the relationship between the two persons (for example, a
mother would not be happy to see her little child get hurt, but a person
may want to see his rival fail).
Linguistic studies help us to develop our understanding of the contribution
of each of the above factors.
You are welcome to visit our site at the following url:

Best regards,

Yael Wald
Department of Psychology
University of Haifa

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