Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 141, Issue 4, pp 693–707 | Cite as

Schadenfreude: The (not so) Secret Joy of Another’s Misfortune

  • Marie Dasborough
  • Paul HarveyEmail author


Despite growing interest in emotions, organizational scholars have largely ignored the moral emotion of schadenfreude, which refers to pleasure felt in response to another’s misfortune. As a socially undesirable emotion, it might be assumed that individuals would be hesitant to share their schadenfreude. In two experimental studies involving emotional responses to unethical behaviors, we find evidence to the contrary. Study 1 revealed that subjects experiencing schadenfreude were willing to share their feelings, especially if the misfortune was perceived to be deserved (i.e., resulting from unethical behaviors). Study 2 extends this work by incorporating schadenfreude targets of different status (CEO versus employee). Consistent with the “tall poppy syndrome,” subjects were more willing to share schadenfreude concerning high status targets than low status targets when the perceived severity of the target’s misconduct was low. This status effect disappeared at higher levels of perceived deservingness, however. Reported willingness to share schadenfreude was strongest at these levels but did not differ significantly between high and low status targets. These findings build on the social functional account of emotions, suggesting that sharing schadenfreude may signal normative cues to others regarding workplace behaviors that are deemed to be unethical.


Schadenfreude Affect Moral emotion Status Tall poppy syndrome 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of BusinessUniversity of MiamiCoral GablesUSA
  2. 2.Peter T Paul College of Business and EconomicsUniversity of New HampshireDurhamUSA

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