Jealousy painsBy Ann Griswold • Published: June 9th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat
If you’ve ever been so jealous it hurts, you’re not alone. A recent report in the journal Science finds the brain responds the same way to envy as it does to real physical pain. And what’s more, when misfortune befalls someone we’re envious of, our brains register feelings of delight.
Researchers recruited nineteen men and women in their early twenties to participate in the brain imaging study. During the experiment, subjects were told they had performed terribly at an important job interview. The subjects were then told one of their friends had landed the job and gone on to enjoy an abundance of financial and romantic wealth. This double-whammy was a strong enough blow to light up the pain-processing region of the brain.
The subjects were then told their successful friend had suffered a terrible setback; for example, that the friend’s spouse had been discovered cheating. News of this misfortune met with apparent delight as it activated the reward pathways in the subjects’ brains. The study shows that being out-performed by a competitor really does sting. Scientists suppose the delight we feel upon a competitor’s fall from grace may reflect the relief of that pain, or simply happiness that justice has been restored, and a sense of gratification in the knowledge that our competitor really isn’t any better off than we are at all.
So the next time you’re one-upped, don’t get mad… just remember that time has a way of leveling the playing field.