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Empathy and Schadenfreude in Sports: A fan’s perspective

22 January 2021

2 mins

In this blog, we share an article written by Peter Sear PhD. Peter is currently studying a PhD on Empathic Leadership in Sport Organisations, within our Institute for Sport Business. This article has been published by Psychology Today.


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, 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.

You can read the full article here.


You can find out more about Peter and the research he is currently undertaking for his PhD, here.

To find out more about the Institute for Sport Business, please visit our website.

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