Thursday, January 19, 2017

Set This House on Fire

In 1862, Northern soldiers torched Virginia's historic White House—where George Washington had married Martha Custis—merely because it belonged to the wife of Robert E. Lee. As they watched it crumble, the Yankee vandals thrilled to the feeling they were taking down the Southern elites.

One hundred fifty-five years later, we put a vulgar and vain man in our White House. What's the similarity? The same visceral joy that drove those Yankees in 1862—Schadenfreude. Only this time, the vandals aren't blue-clad Yankees; and the victims, Confederates. This time, the vandals are blue-collar workers; and the victims, Metrosexuals.

"Schadenfreude occurs when envied persons fall from grace," according to the authors of "When Your Gain is My Pain and Your Pain is My Gain: Neural Correlates of Envy and Schadenfreude."

The authors, six neuroscientists, studied the brainwaves of 19 subjects:
  • First, each was put inside and MRI and told a story about three job applicants. One of the applicants was competing for a job against the subject, and had much better qualifications. The more the subject reported feeling envious of the competitor, the more brain activity appeared in the region called the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, an area that lights up when we experience pain.
  • Next, each subject was told a story about a reunion with the same three people a year later. This time, all three were suffering misfortune. The more the subject reported feeling joyful at the news, the more brain activity appeared in the region called the nucleus accumbens, an area that lights up when we experience pleasure.
  • Finally, the authors compared the spikes in each subject's brainwaves during the first and second stories. They found the more envy felt about a competitor, the more joy felt when that competitor suffered.
"We are usually motivated to maintain a positive self-concept, and we feel discomfort when our self-concept is threatened by others who outperform ourselves," the authors say.

"Envy is a condition in which information recognized by social comparison conflicts with positive self-concept. Experiencing discomfort motivates us to reduce it."

When we take down advantaged others, pain is reduced, and joy, induced.

Let's set this house on fire.

Opinions are my own.
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