Jan 22 2006
According to scientists in the UK men get far more pleasure from the misfortune of others than women do.
Schadenfreude as the Germans call it, is according to scientists at University College London more evident in men than women.
The scientists say their study shows the first neuroscientific evidence of schadenfreude.
By using brain-imaging techniques, they were able to compare how men and women reacted when watching other people suffer pain.
Apparently if the sufferer was someone liked, areas of the brain linked to empathy and pain were activated in both sexes.
The women in the study showed a similar response if they disliked the person experiencing the pain but men however showed a surge in the reward areas of the brain.
Dr Klaas Enoo Stephan, a co-author of the report, says they saw that while the women had a diminished empathic response, it was still there, whereas in the men it was completely absent.
The scientists say their research shows that empathic responses in men are shaped by the perceived fairness of others.
Dr. Stephan says it is clear that empathic responses to other people are not automatic, as has been assumed in the past, but depend on the emotional link to the person who is seen to be suffering.
For the two-part study, 32 men and women volunteers played a game in which they exchanged money with four other people who were actors playing a part.
The actors played either fair characters, who returned equal amounts of cash that have been given to them, or unfair characters who gave little or no money back to the volunteers.
For the second part of the experiment, the volunteers were placed in magnetic imaging brain scanners as they watched the actors receiving a mild electric shock, similar to a bee sting.
By using the scanners the scientists were able to measure the reactions of the volunteers in areas of the brain associated with pain and empathy and reward, while the actors experienced pain.
The responses shown in the brain images were then backed up with questionnaires filled in by the volunteers.
The men admitted to having a much higher desire for revenge than women and derived satisfaction from seeing the unfair person being punished.
As it is possible the study design favoured men as there was a physical rather than psychological or financial threat involved, Dr Tania Singer, who led the study, says they will need to confirm the gender differences in larger studies.
The findings are published in the journal Nature.