Now that we live in the “surveillance state”, we have all gotten used to the idea, good or bad, that everything we do in public is being captured on video. While most of the time it is for our own protection and to maintain civil order, sometimes it captures those little moments that make the rest of us laugh.
We just found a great video clip, recorded on a public bus, where a passenger is sitting and talking to a friend, just as his electronic cigarette detonates in his pants… Ouch. You have to see the video that proves that smoking, even with an E-cig, really is hazardous to your health.
So, do not worry about the guy, he is fine. After the incident, the bus driver stopped and made sure he was okay.
But this video had us chuckling, and that made us wonder why human beings sometimes find humor in the discomfort of others. Believe it or not, the Germans actually have a word for it.
Of course the Germans have a word for this phenomena. Why wouldn’t they?
According to Wikipedia, Schadenfreude is the pleasure we derive from the misfortune of others. Borrowed from German into English and several other languages, it is a feeling of joy that comes from seeing or hearing about another person’s troubles or failures. It is similar in meaning to the English term “gloating”, an expression of pleasure or self-satisfaction at one’s own success or another’s failure.
Rabbi Harold S. Kushner in his book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” describes schadenfreude as a universal, even wholesome reaction that cannot be helped. “There is a German psychological term, Schadenfreude, which refers to the embarrassing reaction of relief we feel when something bad happens to someone else instead of to us.” He gives examples and writes, “People don’t wish their friends ill, but they can’t help feeling an embarrassing spasm of gratitude that the bad thing happened to someone else and not to them.”
And, believe it or not, there has been a lot of research into why we feel this way when we see someone slip onto their bum.
A 2011 study by Cikara and colleagues using fMRI examined Schadenfreude among Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees fans found that fans’ showed increased activation in brain areas correlated with self-reported pleasure (ventral striatum) when observing the rival team experience a negative outcome (e.g., a strike out). By contrast, fans exhibited increased activation in the anterior cingulate and insula when viewing their own team experience a negative outcome.
Brain-scanning studies show that schadenfreude is correlated with envy in subjects. Strong feelings of envy activated physical pain nodes in the brain’s dorsal anterior cingulate cortex; the brain’s reward centers, such as the ventral striatum, were activated by news that other people envied had suffered misfortune. The magnitude of the brain’s schadenfreude response could even be predicted from the strength of the previous envy response.
And therein may lie the answer to the question of why slapstick comedy is so darned funny.
Have you ever found yourself finding amusement in someone else’s failing? Share your stories with us here.