Is Envy Categorical or Dimensional? An Empirical Investigation Using Taxometric Analysis

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Researchers frequently disagree about the latent structure of emotions. Taxometric analysis—a method for determining whether the latent structure of a construct is best defined as categorical or purely dimensional—can be a useful tool for resolving these debates. The present study used taxometric analysis to investigate the latent structure of envy. Scholars disagree about whether envy is necessarily malicious or whether it can also be benign. Van de Ven, Zeelenberg, and Pieters (2009) claim that benign envy exists, and that it is distinct from malicious envy. Much of their evidence for this claim relies on latent class analysis, which can be biased toward creating categories with data that actually vary dimensionally (Cleland, Rothschild, & Haslam, 2000; Uebersax, 1999). Therefore, taxometric analysis provides a more conservative test for an underlying categorical structure. A daily diary procedure was used to measure participants’ day-to-day experiences of envy. The results support van de Ven et al.’s claim that benign envy exists, and that is distinct from malicious envy.

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