Empathy and Schadenfreude

Empathy and Schadenfreude

Empathy and Schadenfreude

Empathy and Schadenfreude in Sports

A fan’s perspective.

When it comes to sport on TV, what’s the next best thing to sharing in the experience of your own team’s victory? Whatever your sport, you probably prefer to watch your own team rather than any other. You may sit there on the edge of your sofa, with every cell in your body cheering them on to win. But do you ever tune in to watch a team you dislike hoping you’ll get to see them lose? Maybe your team’s biggest rival?

Schadenfreude

Schadenfreude, the pleasure derived in another’s misfortune, has been described as both the ultimate failure of empathy and empathy’s shadow, yet it actually relies on empathy.

Empathy does not insist on pity or a compassionate response. When we witness misfortune, we wince with pain before we laugh; because we became the other in the moment. Whilst being the other, we feel the pain, then rationalise to understand that, all considered, we are glad the other is experiencing it for real.

Although neuroscientists often refer to schadenfreude as an extremely complicated emotion, the process essentially involves the activation of the reward centre of our brain. Schadenfreude looks like pure joy as well as feeling like it. Context can exacerbate this. If the failure of another team increases the chances of success for your own team, your joy is enhanced.

Competitive Nature

The competitive nature of sport offers a fantastic opportunity to analyse this enjoyment of another’s suffering. In 2010, two psychologists, Jaap W. Ouwerkerk of VU Amsterdam and Wilco W. van Dijk of Leiden University, both avid football fans, were watching the football World Cup at home on a Dutch TV channel. Their team was still in the tournament and they often switched over to a foreign broadcaster when they were doing particularly well, in order to enjoy the foreign commentator’s praise. After the Dutch exited the competition, the psychologists turned their attention to their biggest rivals, Germany.

In the semi-final against Spain, to the psychologist’s delight, the Spanish team scored the winning goal just minutes before the end. The psychologists found themselves turning over to ADR, a German channel, in order to enjoy the sound of German commentators wallowing in the catastrophe of their imminent defeat and exit from the competition.

Reflecting on their behaviour was interesting enough, but they soon discovered they were not alone. They found that the number of Dutch viewers of ADR had peaked at 352,000 just before the end of the game when the Germans were staring at defeat.

The Dutch fans wanted to share and “feel into” the experience, in order to gain a better understanding of the pain being felt by their rivals and their fans. The more they could understand the pain, the more they enjoyed it. Research on empathy shows that empathising is easier if we know someone well. The better you know someone the more easily you will understand their pain.

Supporting Sports Teams

When it comes to supporting sports teams, many of us enjoy the banter at work on a Monday morning after the weekend’s fixtures. Consider that guy who sits next to you for five days a week, who you know really well—maybe you consider him your friend. You like most things about him, but not the team he supports. You know when they lose, he suffers, yet you yearn for that and it’s the first thing you’ll mention when you see him. This works both ways. He loves the sport as much as you. He knows how hurt you are when your team loses and he’ll be there waiting for you, particularly if your team has been superior for a long time.

Superiority often annoys us. The status of a team or a professional athlete can be achieved by being recognized and respected by others for good performance or through unethically achieved dominance or aggressive behaviour. Hubris in society tends to lead to a rebalancing. If “superior” teams or individuals are seen to fail, the joy expressed, sometimes referred to as “malicious joy,” can bring them back down to earth. Malicious joy also increases one’s own self-esteem.

Sharing in the joy of your own team’s success may be the most obvious example of fan empathy, but empathy offers different paths to enjoyment. It may not be something you are proud to admit, but be honest: What’s the next best thing to watching your own team win?

References

Van Dijk, W. W., & Ouwerkerk, J. W. (2014). Intergroup Rivalry and Schadenfreude. In book: Schadenfreude: Understanding Pleasure at the Misfortune of Others (pp.186-199) Chapter: 12. Cambridge University Press

Blog originally written for Pyschology Today.  See the orignal article here 

Peter Sear, Founder, The Empathic Minds Organisation

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Empathy and Schadenfreude

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The New Signing

The New Signing

The New Signing

New Signing

Eventually, we’ll reach the end of another football season in Europe. Clubs will be considering improvements to their squads. So, what happens when a new signing enters the dressing room? Does it lift the moral and emotions of the whole squad? How does it impact current players? Will it affect their well-being, or team cohesion and performance? And what role does empathy or empathic leadership play?

A squad of athletes may be compared to any social group. Findings have been consistent across studies from military units to troops of baboons. These findings show that a new member will cause disruption that impacts all group members. The faster the new member is integrated, the sooner this uneasy period ends, which is good news for those seeking cohesion and ultimately the success of the group or team.

In sport, a new recruit presents a challenge to the leader. Although a new signing can boost a dressing room, it’s not always easy to judge the reactions across a squad. To do this, an empathic leader utilises knowledge and understanding of individual athletes, and this highlights the importance of close relationships.

In most cases, a leader will know least about the new recruit. One temptation maybe to focus on this one individual, although the whole group is experiencing change and will benefit from the leader’s understanding and if necessary, support. Dynamic communication and reassurances about the situation will help.

Social Hierarchy

There’s also a social hierarchy within groups that new recruits disturb. Typically, low-ranking members of a group (in sport this may relate to younger or lower paid athletes) suffer more stress than higher-ranking members. Yet evidence suggests that when a new member enters, it is the higher-ranking members who will be most affected. Positions are threatened. In sport this is literal; in both status and selection. The stress experienced may result in behaviour that is out of character. Perspectives become cloudy during this period of adjustment. A lack of clarity is due to what is going on at a neurochemical as well as an emotional level.

The perceived threat means adrenal glands are activated and blood becomes awash with glucocorticoids, like cortisol. Any consequences of this are significant if the stress endures, with both mental and physical health at risk. Again, assimilating a new member into a group as soon as possible is better for everyone.

Integration

Once a new signing is integrated, glucocorticoid levels will subside, social behaviour will normalise and the stress experienced will dissipate. Thankfully, there are ways of minimising the time this takes.

A new member entering a group can be less threatening and integrate faster if the climate is empathic and relationships are close. In effect, individuals will feel more secure and be more resilient to change. Furthermore, a neurochemical consequence of an empathic climate is elevated levels of oxytocin, a counter-balance to cortisol; and helpful for mental and physical well-being. As a result, the stress experienced will be less significant and social behaviours less volatile.

It is important to remember that a new recruit should be a positive event for a club or any organisation. An empathic leader and an empathic climate offer protection against the potentially negative consequences of their arrival and should speed up integration. Moreover, leaders of groups or teams in any industry need to remain aware of the perspectives of those they lead and how these perspectives may be influenced by any change, including change of personnel.

 

Peter Sear, Founder, The Empathic Minds Organisation

An Unprecedented Swing in the Personality of Presidents

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Presidents Joe Biden and Donald Trump have starkly different personalities. As the cliché goes, a week is a long time in politics. America has seen its presidency change from Republican to Democrat before, and vice versa. There have been regular swings in the sizes of...

read more
Empathy and Schadenfreude

Empathy and Schadenfreude

Empathy and Schadenfreude in Sports A fan's perspective. When it comes to sport on TV, what’s the next best thing to sharing in the experience of your own team’s victory? Whatever your sport, you probably prefer to watch your own team rather than any other. You may...

read more
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read more
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  Empathic Leadership The style of empathic leadership is based on the understanding that it is impossible to connect with or to motivate followers if you cannot envision life from their perspective. This realisation has led to empathy becoming a highly...

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What is Empathy?

So what is it? When we talk about empathy we are focusing on a way of understanding another’s perspective by vicariously experiencing their emotions. This is often referred to as ‘putting oneself in another’s shoes’. However, this phrase can be misleading, for we need...

read more

Rashford V Johnson : Passing Empathy to Politics

Rashford V Johnson : Passing Empathy to Politics

Rashford V Johnson : Passing Empathy to Politics

Empathy

Empathy is about understanding and is often fuelled by experience. Empathic politicians need to understand those they represent, yet we regularly see evidence of a lack of understanding, due to a lack of empathy. This leads to a fall in popularity or essential and embarrassing political U-turns, the like of which we have seen this week.

An estimated 1.3m children in England will be able to claim school meal vouchers during the summer holidays due to the pressure asserted by footballer Marcus Rashford. Former Education secretary, Justine Greening summed the situation up well: “I think there should be a post-mortem on how come a Premier League footballer is providing better advice to the Prime Minister than ministers and his wider government.”

The answer is empathy. We know that Marcus Rashford was able to provide such good advice because he has relied on such vouchers himself.

Marcus Rashford: Food voucher U-turn after footballer’s campaign >

Marcus Rashford

To begin with, we know that Rashford’s mother struggled to earn enough to feed her five children and had to rely on vouchers to bridge the gap. in addition, we are aware that there are more people in the UK living the experiences of the Rashfords than people living the experiences of the Johnsons. However, it is the decisions of the Johnsons of this country that influence the lives of the Rashfords.

To the best of our knowledge Boris Johnson has never had to rely on food voucher schemes. It seems unlikely that any of his family have, or any of his friends or indeed anyone he has ever known. Furthermore, most of his ministers have life experiences similar to his. It should come as no surprise that they didn’t provide better advice, for they too lack the empathic understanding that comes from shared experiences. This was highlighted when Matt Hancock referred to Marcus Rashford as Daniel. He blamed this on the similarity of the name Rashford to Radcliffe, the name of the actor who plays Harry Potter. Marcus Rashford is a Manchester United and England centre forward, but maybe our politicians are more familiar with quidditch than our national sport of football.

Politicians

A UK politician’s unfamiliarity with mainstream culture is no rarity. We didn’t have to wait long for another example. Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, no less, revealed his level of understanding for the gesture of taking a knee by saying it came from Game of Thrones. Raab was apparently unaware of the actions of Colin Kaepernick in the NFL.

Looking back there are equally comical examples. In 2015, the PM, David Cameron showed his lack of understanding of football by confusing West Ham with Aston Villa.

Election 2015: Cameron ‘brain fade’ over West Ham / Aston Villa support

A year later, London Mayoral candidate, Zac Goldsmith couldn’t name which London football team play at Loftus Road. Neither could he name a Central Line tube station in the centre of the capital.

Zac Goldsmith Crashes And Burns In Quiz On London

Of course, we can’t all have the same experiences as others. Empathising is possible without shared experiences, although it’s more difficult and you have to be a motivated and skilled empathiser. You have to be able to use your imagination, drawing on everything you know about similar situations in order to understand another’s perspective. This is often referred to as mentalising or cognitive empathy. Ideally, political leaders employ cognitive, rather than emotional empathy, in order to protect themselves from the draining experience of the constant sharing of emotions. Developing cognitive empathy is certainly possible for those wishing to gain a deeper understanding of those they lead.

Empathy is becoming a more essential tool in contemporary politics. It seems voters are starting to expect it. When it’s clearly lacking our leaders will struggle to hold onto power. Marcus Rashford will walk onto the pitch a little taller this week, due to his empathy, which has enhanced respect and popularity; two things politicians crave. When it comes the empathy, in the match between Rashford and Johnson there is only one winner!

 

Peter Sear, Founder, The Empathic Minds Organisation

An Unprecedented Swing in the Personality of Presidents

An Unprecedented Swing in the Personality of Presidents

Presidents Joe Biden and Donald Trump have starkly different personalities. As the cliché goes, a week is a long time in politics. America has seen its presidency change from Republican to Democrat before, and vice versa. There have been regular swings in the sizes of...

read more
Empathy and Schadenfreude

Empathy and Schadenfreude

Empathy and Schadenfreude in Sports A fan's perspective. When it comes to sport on TV, what’s the next best thing to sharing in the experience of your own team’s victory? Whatever your sport, you probably prefer to watch your own team rather than any other. You may...

read more
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New Signing Eventually, we'll reach the end of another football season in Europe. Clubs will be considering improvements to their squads. So, what happens when a new signing enters the dressing room? Does it lift the moral and emotions of the whole squad? How does it...

read more
Rashford V Johnson : Passing Empathy to Politics

Rashford V Johnson : Passing Empathy to Politics

Empathy Empathy is about understanding and is often fuelled by experience. Empathic politicians need to understand those they represent, yet we regularly see evidence of a lack of understanding, due to a lack of empathy. This leads to a fall in popularity or essential...

read more
The Empathy of Cummings & Trump

The Empathy of Cummings & Trump

Cummings and Trump We have seen Cummings and Trump dominate the news and public discourse for two weeks, with both being accused of lacking empathy. Moreover, Piers Morgan recently suggested to the viewing public that President Trump, who he knows personally, has a...

read more
Empathic Communication

Empathic Communication

  Communication is possible without empathy, but a non-empathic communicator will never be as effective as they could be. Empathic communication is characterised by listening, compassion, concern, and support. Such efforts are noticed and appreciated. They have a...

read more
What is Empathic Leadership?

What is Empathic Leadership?

  Empathic Leadership The style of empathic leadership is based on the understanding that it is impossible to connect with or to motivate followers if you cannot envision life from their perspective. This realisation has led to empathy becoming a highly...

read more
What is Empathy?

What is Empathy?

So what is it? When we talk about empathy we are focusing on a way of understanding another’s perspective by vicariously experiencing their emotions. This is often referred to as ‘putting oneself in another’s shoes’. However, this phrase can be misleading, for we need...

read more

Empathic Communication

Empathic Communication

 

Communication is possible without empathy, but a non-empathic communicator will never be as effective as they could be. Empathic communication is characterised by listening, compassion, concern, and support. Such efforts are noticed and appreciated. They have a positive influence on the other’s emotional state. The good feeling is contagious and an example has been set.

Communication is vital in leadership in particular. Good leaders understand how information will be received and can accurately predict reactions. Using empathy insists that communication is a dynamic process with ongoing feedback from the person with whom one is empathising. The leader needs to retain curiosity to gain deeper understanding that maintains knowledge of the other and moulds future communication.

Empathic Communication

An empathic leader will communicate using choices rather than demands and pursue goals without compromising others. They will also attend to non-verbal methods of communication, like: eye contact, facial expressions, consolation behaviours like comforting touch or embrace, mirroring (including body shape/posture and semiautomatic actions like yawning) and using reassuring words or sounds. They value: the opinions of others and the process of coming to a decision (not just the decision itself). This approach boosts morale and generally leads to better decision making, which builds a reputation of competence and trust.

Carlo Ancelotti is one of the most successful leaders in European football, winning trophies in different countries. Here are his thoughts on listening:

Carlo Ancelotti Head Coach Empathic Communication

Carlo Ancelotti

“Ideas can come from anywhere, so you should always listen to people…Listening is an often-overlooked skill. Listening to what other people have to say – my staff, players, general director and those outside the game – and absorbing it, acting upon it or opening up a dialogue about it is something I very much believe is essential for those who wish to lead… It is very important for me to listen to the players. When preparing for some games, you can give an idea to a player and you have to listen to what they think about it.”

Carlo Ancelotti

“Ideas can come from anywhere, so you should always listen to people…Listening is an often-overlooked skill. Listening to what other people have to say – my staff, players, general director and those outside the game – and absorbing it, acting upon it or opening up a dialogue about it is something I very much believe is essential for those who wish to lead… It is very important for me to listen to the players. When preparing for some games, you can give an idea to a player and you have to listen to what they think about it.”

Carlo Ancelotti Head Coach Empathic Communication

As well as failing to listen, poor communication can be due to: a lack of knowledge of the other, lack of clarity, stubborn preconceived ideas, jumping to conclusions, or not understanding another’s needs. Poor communication has a negative impact on relationships. Empathic communication brings people closer together. This can improve cohesion in a team and alignment within an organisation.

There are some great examples of empathic communication in the biographies of great leaders. The quote above was taken from Carlo Ancelotti’s Quiet Leadership, which I wholeheartedly recommend.

Peter Sear

Founder

Carlo Ancelotti Quiet Leadership Empathic Minds Organisation

Quiet Leadership by Carlo Ancelotti

Click here to buy from amazon.co.uk

An Unprecedented Swing in the Personality of Presidents

An Unprecedented Swing in the Personality of Presidents

Presidents Joe Biden and Donald Trump have starkly different personalities. As the cliché goes, a week is a long time in politics. America has seen its presidency change from Republican to Democrat before, and vice versa. There have been regular swings in the sizes of...

read more
Empathy and Schadenfreude

Empathy and Schadenfreude

Empathy and Schadenfreude in Sports A fan's perspective. When it comes to sport on TV, what’s the next best thing to sharing in the experience of your own team’s victory? Whatever your sport, you probably prefer to watch your own team rather than any other. You may...

read more
The New Signing

The New Signing

New Signing Eventually, we'll reach the end of another football season in Europe. Clubs will be considering improvements to their squads. So, what happens when a new signing enters the dressing room? Does it lift the moral and emotions of the whole squad? How does it...

read more
Rashford V Johnson : Passing Empathy to Politics

Rashford V Johnson : Passing Empathy to Politics

Empathy Empathy is about understanding and is often fuelled by experience. Empathic politicians need to understand those they represent, yet we regularly see evidence of a lack of understanding, due to a lack of empathy. This leads to a fall in popularity or essential...

read more
The Empathy of Cummings & Trump

The Empathy of Cummings & Trump

Cummings and Trump We have seen Cummings and Trump dominate the news and public discourse for two weeks, with both being accused of lacking empathy. Moreover, Piers Morgan recently suggested to the viewing public that President Trump, who he knows personally, has a...

read more
Empathic Communication

Empathic Communication

  Communication is possible without empathy, but a non-empathic communicator will never be as effective as they could be. Empathic communication is characterised by listening, compassion, concern, and support. Such efforts are noticed and appreciated. They have a...

read more
What is Empathic Leadership?

What is Empathic Leadership?

  Empathic Leadership The style of empathic leadership is based on the understanding that it is impossible to connect with or to motivate followers if you cannot envision life from their perspective. This realisation has led to empathy becoming a highly...

read more
What is Empathy?

What is Empathy?

So what is it? When we talk about empathy we are focusing on a way of understanding another’s perspective by vicariously experiencing their emotions. This is often referred to as ‘putting oneself in another’s shoes’. However, this phrase can be misleading, for we need...

read more