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06th Jan 2015

STUDY: Children as young as two-years-old can experience ‘schadenfreude’

Is your toddler plotting against you for his own entertainment?

Katie Mythen-Lynch

Does your toddler take a little too much pleasure in scoffing your last Malteser? Does he laugh a little too loudly when you hit your funny bone in the playground or trip over in the park?

A new study proves that children as young as two years old are emotionally capable of schadenfreude: enjoying another’s misfortune.

Yes. Your angelic little darling may be plotting against you for his or her own personal entertainment. Researchers at the University of Haifa in Israel, where the study was conducted, originally believed that schadenfreude only existed in children over the age of seven, but they now believe they can identify it in children as young as 24 months.

The researchers set up 35 groups comprising a mother, her child, and a friend of the child who was the same age. The groups were subjected to two situations.

The first was an “equal” situation, in which the mother encouraged the children to play together, ignored them for two minutes, and then began to read a book aloud to herself for two minutes. After those two minutes, the mother was told to take a glass of water that was on the table and pour it by “accident” on the book. In the second, “unequal” situation, after the first two minutes the mother took the child that wasn’t hers on her lap and began reading the book aloud to him or her. Here, too, after two minutes, the mother spilled the cup of water on the book.

The researchers found that when the unequal situation was brought to an end, the mother’s own child showed visible signs of happiness, as expressed by jumping up and down, clapping his hands, or rolling on the floor. By contrast, when the water was spilled while the mother was reading the book to herself, there were no similar reactions.