The face of schadenfreude: Differentiation of joy and schadenfreude by electromyography

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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.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCognition and Emotion
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)1117-1125
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 18.08.2015

    Research areas

  • Psychology - Electromyography, Emotion, Facial expression, Joy, Schadenfreude