Now that schadenfreude, which I always thought meant "shades of Freud" but actually means taking pleasure in someone else's misfortune, has been located in the brain, I am awaiting news on the location of ennui, angst, misery, malaise and "feeling pretty..."From "Empathic neural responses are modulated by the perceived fairness of others" in Nature:
I think my expectations are reasonable. After all, brain scans - which were used in the detection of schadenfreude - have clearly reached the level of sophistication required to identify states of mind described by complicated German words. Soon they will advance to states of mind truly expressible only in French, and ultimately to the kind of internal experience until now captured only in our best musical comedies.
The neural processes underlying empathy are a subject of intense interest within the social neurosciences1, 2, 3. However, very little is known about how brain empathic responses are modulated by the affective link between individuals. We show here that empathic responses are modulated by learned preferences, a result consistent with economic models of social preferences4, 5, 6, 7. We engaged male and female volunteers in an economic game, in which two confederates played fairly or unfairly, and then measured brain activity with functional magnetic resonance imaging while these same volunteers observed the confederates receiving pain. Both sexes exhibited empathy-related activation in pain-related brain areas (fronto-insular and anterior cingulate cortices) towards fair players. However, these empathy-related responses were significantly reduced in males when observing an unfair person receiving pain. This effect was accompanied by increased activation in reward-related areas, correlated with an expressed desire for revenge. We conclude that in men (at least) empathic responses are shaped by valuation of other people's social behaviour, such that they empathize with fair opponents while favouring the physical punishment of unfair opponents, a finding that echoes recent evidence for altruistic punishment.Technorati Tags: Schadenfreude, Neurology, Functional MRI, Hilarious Journal Articles