Leveling Up and Down: The Experiences of Benign and Malicious Envy

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Abstract

Envy is the painful emotion caused by the good fortune of others. This research empirically supports the distinction between two qualitatively different types of envy, namely benign and malicious envy. It reveals that the experience of benign envy leads to a moving-up motivation aimed at improving one's own position, whereas the experience of malicious envy leads to a pulling-down motivation aimed at damaging the position of the superior other. Study 1 used guided recall of the two envy types in a culture (the Netherlands) that has separate words for benign and malicious envy. Analyses of the experiential content of these emotions found the predicted differences. Study 2 and 3 used one sample from the United States and one from Spain, respectively, where a single word exists for both envy types. A latent class analysis based on the experiential content of envy confirmed the existence of separate experiences of benign and malicious envy in both these cultures as well. The authors discuss the implications of distinguishing the two envy types for theories of cooperation, group performance, and Schadenfreude.

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van de Ven, N., Zeelenberg, M., & Pieters, R. (2009). Leveling Up and Down: The Experiences of Benign and Malicious Envy. Emotion, 9(3), 419–429. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0015669

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