Joy, Schadenfreude, Sorrow, and Resentment as Responses Restoring Balance in Cognitive Units

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Based on Heider's (1958) balance theory we hypothesize that emotional responses to other persons' outcomes depend on attitudes toward these persons. Positive attitudes toward others lead to empathic responses to their outcomes – joy after a success and sorrow after a failure. Negative attitudes result in paradoxical responses – negative to a success (resentment) and positive to a failure (schadenfreude). These emotions function as responses restoring balance within cognitive units consisting of the perceiver, other persons, and their outcomes. Three studies supported these hypotheses and showed that deservingness considerations play a weaker role in shaping emotional responses of joy and sorrow to others' outcomes when strong interpersonal attitudes are involved. However, deservingness plays an independent role in shaping the emotional response of resentment.

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