“A Vengefulness of the Impotent”: The Pain of In-Group Inferiority and Schadenfreude Toward Successful Out-Groups

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Abstract

Nietzsche (1887/1967) suggested that the emotional pain individuals feel about their in-group's inferiority leads them to feel the pleasure of schadenfreude when a successful out-group fails. To test this idea, 2 studies examined a fictitious competition between real universities. Individuals' pain about their in-group's inferiority explained schadenfreude at the failure of a successful out-group better than dislike of the out-group, interest in the domain of competition, illegitimacy of the out-group's success, and illegitimacy of the in-group's inferiority. In addition, emotions regarding the out-group's success (i.e., envy, dislike-based anger, and illegitimacy-based anger) were weaker explanations of schadenfreude than the pain of in-group inferiority and anger based in this pain (which Nietzsche referred to as ressentiment). Thus, schadenfreude has more to do with the inferiority of the self than with the success of others. As well as providing evidence for a specific form of prejudice grounded in group-based emotions, this research also revives displacement explanations of prejudice toward 3rd parties.

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