Schadenfreude: The (not so) Secret Joy of Another’s Misfortune

Marie Dasborough, Paul Harvey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations

Abstract

Despite growing interest in emotions, organizational scholars have largely ignored the moral emotion of schadenfreude, which refers to pleasure felt in response to another’s misfortune. As a socially undesirable emotion, it might be assumed that individuals would be hesitant to share their schadenfreude. In two experimental studies involving emotional responses to unethical behaviors, we find evidence to the contrary. Study 1 revealed that subjects experiencing schadenfreude were willing to share their feelings, especially if the misfortune was perceived to be deserved (i.e., resulting from unethical behaviors). Study 2 extends this work by incorporating schadenfreude targets of different status (CEO versus employee). Consistent with the “tall poppy syndrome,” subjects were more willing to share schadenfreude concerning high status targets than low status targets when the perceived severity of the target’s misconduct was low. This status effect disappeared at higher levels of perceived deservingness, however. Reported willingness to share schadenfreude was strongest at these levels but did not differ significantly between high and low status targets. These findings build on the social functional account of emotions, suggesting that sharing schadenfreude may signal normative cues to others regarding workplace behaviors that are deemed to be unethical.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)693-707
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Volume141
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017

Keywords

  • Affect
  • Moral emotion
  • Schadenfreude
  • Status
  • Tall poppy syndrome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Law

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