Tag Archives: emotional intelligence

The Neuropsychology of Schadenfreude

Schadenfreude, the experience of pleasure at the misfortune of others, is a very common emotion. It may seem mean-spirited, vindictive even, but Schadenfreude is the result of several deeply-ingrained processes that the human brain spent millions of years evolving.

Schadenfreude is a German term that translates to “damage” (schaden) “joy” (freude). Research in neural science shows the experience of schadenfreude activates the brain’s reward centers. Psychologically, there are three primary theories regarding schadenfreude: concerns of self-evaluation and self-esteem (feeling better about oneself by lowering another), social identity (identifying with a group with exclusion of others), and justice (feeling that somebody ‘got what was coming to them’ due to their own behaviors).

Dopamine from our limbic system from laughing at another who is struggling can have an addictive quality to it. Think of the perpetual gossips and snipes. Over time, when people make mean words and mockery a habit, the logical and reasoning part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, can shut down, and we are then acting on our most primitive emotions. The dopamine delivery from this can insidiously erode an individual’s ability to empathize.

Empathy is a key aspect of emotional intelligence, or EQ, that is strongly associated with mental well-being, healthy relationships, and social reciprocity. What pulls people away from schadenfreude is the ability to feel empathy for others and to perceive them as fully human, vulnerable, and flawed.

While some degree of schadenfreude is part of the normal continuum of human experience, frequent or chronic schadenfreude can indicate a mental disorder. People with personality diagnoses such as antisocial personality may delight in the pain of others and have little regard for others’ well-being. Chronic anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem might also cause someone to seek validation in others’ failures. People with low self-esteem sometimes experience schadenfreude even when they care about someone. A sibling who feels parents don’t notice their talents, for example, might delight in a sibling’s failures, particularly if the other sibling is often praised by the parents. Somebody who feels unsuccessful may feel glee when a seemingly more successful friend has a break-up or a job setback.

See also: When Friends Are Successful

Recent research:
Schadenfreude can produce a sense of control and dominance. Higher use of social media is associated with more use of schadenfreude as a coping strategy. During times of uncertainty, when people may feel less in control-of health, news, and outcomes, schadenfreude increases.
However, while there IS a temporary boost in mood from schadenfreude, the effects are very short-lived. In contrast, the practice of compassion and self compassion have long-term positive effects on well-being, medical and mental. Breaking malice and ‘I told you so’ habits is literally good for your health.

See also: The Science of Compassion

Emotional intelligence and agility in the workplace

Recently, I was asked by my colleague, fellow mental health professional and hospitality industry consultant, Laura Louise Green, to be the guest speaker on her seminar about Emotional Intelligence at the annual Tales of the Cocktail, the renowned international hospitality industry conference (9/22/2021).

We discussed the importance of emotional intelligence in the hospitality industry, the workplace, and in everyday interactions. What if bringing our emotional life into our work was exactly what we needed to protect our well-being and that of others?

A traditional work model has postulated leaving your emotions at the door. However, a growing body of research on the topic of emotional intelligence (EQ), the ability to understand and manage your own emotions and the emotions of those around you, shows that emotional understanding of self and others is highly related to competency, psychological well-being, and success across a variety of work and interpersonal situations.

Five characteristics of emotionally intelligent people:
* Change Agents
Individuals with high EQ are not afraid of change or taking risks.
* Self-Awareness
They know their own strengths and weaknesses.
* Empathy
They can relate to others without judgment.
* Balance
They strive for balance in their lives and encourage others to do the same.
* Kindness/Grace
They practice self-compassion, andencourage others to bring out the best in themselves.

The Neuropsychology of EQ:
Emotions are contagious; we catch feelings, and we spread them. This means that when we are with other people, physical measures such as heart rate, respiration and blood pressure can actually change to correspond to those of the other person, particularly when looking into their eyes. In neural science, this is called Limbic Resonance.

The practical implication of this information is that by learning to monitor our own emotions and sense emotional changes in other people, it becomes possible to recognize what people are feeling; and, by learning to navigate and manage our own emotions, we influence the emotions of others. EQ can be learned and strengthened.

Practice highlights:
* Monitor emotions- Learn to monitor your own emotions when with others. What are you experiencing? Is it coming from you or from someone else?
* Be present- Be mentally present and emotionally available so that others feel emotionally connected to you.
* Conduct emotional scans- Do an emotional scan before, during and after events that can trigger emotional reactions. Emotions consist of both bodily reactions and thoughts.
* Listen with and for emotion- To be a better listener, recognize the emotions and body language of others. Paying attention is a huge component of EQ.
* Create a healthy emotional climate- Develop a specific plan to foster an emotionally healthy, safe, and productive culture in your workplace and in your relationships. People have different levels of comfort with emotion and being sensitive to that is extremely important.
* Practice lightness- Become aware of the importance of lightness in interaction. People enjoy being around lightness because it, like other emotions, is contagious.

Dr. Daniel Goleman, an early researcher on emotional intelligence and psychology said, “Laughter may be the shortest distance between two brains, an unstoppable infectious spread that builds an instant social bond.”

Ultimately, emotional intelligence fosters connection; the essence of teamwork and relationship.
Also see Mental Health and Empathy. 

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