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Is there such a thing as a "schadenfreude face"?

Seriously, Science?By Seriously ScienceOctober 22, 2014 3:00 PM


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Photo: Flickr/Moyan Brenn

And who better to answer this burning question than... a group of German scientists?! To determine if a person's facial expression is different when one is feeling plain ol' happy vs. happy because of others' misfortunes, the scientists had a group of subjects watch soccer and then measured the activation of their facial muscles. Unfortunately, the researchers were not able to detect any differences in how the subjects' faces moved when their team scored or when the other team missed a shot; consequently, they concluded that there is no such thing as a "schadenfreude face." Maybe they should have tested toddlers instead...

The face of schadenfreude: Differentiation of joy and schadenfreude by electromyography. "The present study investigated whether the facial expression of the social emotion schadenfreude, the pleasant emotion which arises in response to another's misfortune, can be differentiated from the facial expression of joy. Schadenfreude was induced by videos displaying unsuccessful penalty shots of Dutch soccer players and joy by successful penalty shots of German soccer players. Thirty-two participants watched videos while the activity of four facial muscles was recorded electromyographically. Furthermore, they judged each stimulus according to valence, arousal, joy, schadenfreude and sadness. Electromyography (EMG) results revealed that schadenfreude expressions did not differ from joy with regard to involved muscles (increase of Musculus zygomaticus major and M. orbicularis oculi activity, decrease of M. corrugator supercilii activity, no activity change of M. frontalis medialis). Furthermore, facial reactions developed fast in both conditions and EMG indicated stronger reactions in the schadenfreude condition, but according to ratings participants felt more pleasure in the joy condition." Related content: NCBI ROFL: Smile intensity of baseball players in photographs predicts longevity. NCBI ROFL: Was Mona Lisa's smile caused by Bell's palsy or a punch in the face?Even toddlers experience schadenfreude.

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