Do you rub your hands in glee if an acquaintance fails to land their dream job? Or chuckle when someone spills their coffee down their white shirt? If so, then it could be because you’ve got low self-esteem, according to researchers.
Enjoying someone else’s misfortune is known as schadenfreude and scientists from Leiden University in the Netherlands say that the lower your self-esteem, the more you’ll experience it.
‘If somebody enjoys the misfortune of others, then there's something in that misfortune that is good for the person,’ said study researcher Wilco W van Dijk.
Van Dijk and his colleagues drew their conclusions after testing 70 undergraduates by asking them to read two interviews, reports LiveScience.
The first was about an ambitious student who was aiming to secure a dream job. The second was a chat with his supervisor who revealed that his academic success had been extremely patchy and that he wouldn't be offered the role.
The volunteers were then given various statements and asked to what degree they agreed with them.
Their responses would measure their susceptibility to schadenfreude.
The statements included ‘I enjoy[ed] what happened to Marleen/Mark’ and ‘I couldn’t resist a little smile.’
Self-esteem levels had been worked out in a separate test before this stage of the experiment and the results show that those with a low opinion of themselves were happiest at learning of the student’s misfortune.
To add even more veracity to the study those with low self-esteem were tested again after they’d been given some short and intense positive thinking exercises – and their schadnfreude levels dropped.
Van Dijk told LiveScience: ‘I think when you have low self-esteem, you will do almost anything to feel better, and when you're confronted with the misfortune of others you'll feel schadenfreude.
‘In this study, if we give people something to affirm their self, then what we found is they have less schadenfreude - they don't need the misfortune of others to feel better anymore.’