It’s said that there’s no joy like the satisfaction or pleasure at someone else’s misfortune. But did you know that children as young as two years of age can understand this sophisticated emotion of schadenfreude?

Schadenfreude is an evolutionary mechanism. (Shutterstock.com)
Schadenfreude is an evolutionary mechanism. (Shutterstock.com)

Schadenfreude is an emotion of joy in the face of someone else’s misfortune, and it can be rooted in jealousy, competitiveness, or sometimes even hatred.

Until now, researchers believed that children didn’t develop such a complicated emotion until the age of seven, but a new study conducted at the University of Haifa found evidence suggesting otherwise.

“The study strengthened the perception that schadenfreude is an evolutionary mechanism that develops within us as we cope with situations of inequality,” said Prof. Simone G. Shamay-Tsoory, of the University of Haifa’s Psychology Department, who led the study.

Until now, the prevailing assumption among researchers was that children younger than seven years old were not emotionally developed enough to have such feelings. This study, conducted by Prof. Shamay-Tsoory, along with Dorin Ahronberg-Kirschenbaum of the University of Haifa’s School of Education, and Nirit Bauminger-Zviely of Bar Ilan University, sought to determine whether such an emotion exists even earlier, at ages two or three.

During the study the researchers also found evidence of jealousy.

“Social comparisons, in which we compare what we have to what others have, as well as emotions of justice, develop at a very early age and constitute positive evolutionary mechanisms to cope with inequitable situations,” said Prof. Shamay-Tsoory. “Because social-comparison reactions are linked to character traits like self-esteem and altruism, it’s possible that people who think less of themselves are more likely to suffer from feelings of schadenfreude.”