It's Friday the 13th today and the topic of Schadenfreude can't be more appropriate than today. What is Schadenfreude you ask? It is a German word derived from two words: Schaden meaning "adversity or harm" and Freude meaning "joy." Simply put, it is the joy we experience from seeing something bad happen to other people.
What got me thinking about Schadenfreude was something that just happened last night. Robert was sleeping and I was reading, waiting to get sleepy. Robert turned the ceiling fan on high before he went to bed and I was getting cold. So I reached into the basket on top of the headboard to grab the remote for the ceiling fan. It slipped out of my hand and hit sleeping Robert on the head. He was roused to a half awake state and exclaimed, "Now what is this?" I just started giggling and had to work very hard to suppress my laughter so as not to wake him up.
Rest assured he is fine, but I felt terrible and couldn't stop giggling.
So I Googled "why do we laugh when people get hurt" and found the term Schadenfreude. I digged a little deeper into my search results and discovered an article at Science Blogs which reported that researchers used functional MRI to map the area of the brain responsible for Schadenfreude. Apparently, the ventral striatum was active when subjects felt Schadenfreude. This also happens to be the area of the brain related to our feelings about risk, reward and making decisions. Apparently, how much Schadenfreude you experience depends on how much empathy you feel for a person: the more you affinity you have toward someone, the more you will experience Schadenfreude when something bad happens to them.
Image by NYCArthur via FlickrWhich explains why I often find myself suppressing giggles when I witness Robert's pratfalls. Or why one of my all time funniest Schadenfreude moments is a memory of my sister falling down in a crosswalk. My sister always gets mad at me when I bring this memory up and start laughing. This seems like such a horrible reaction on my part and yet I really have no control over it. At least now I understand why it happens from a neurobiology point of view. Which is somewhat of a relief; I thought maybe I watched too many episodes of The Three Stooges growing up and they warped my brain somehow.
Wish me luck in explaining to Robert that I laugh at his slips, trips, bobbles and funbles because I love him so much!