In two studies we demonstrated that self-esteem has a negative relationship with schadenfreude toward a high achiever and that this relationship was mediated by the self-threat evoked by this high achiever. Moreover, we showed that this indirect relationship was contingent on an opportunity to affirm the self. When no self-affirmation opportunity was available, low self-esteem participants experienced a stronger self-threat when confronted with a high achiever, and this self-threat increased their schadenfreude, whereas this response was attenuated when they were given an opportunity to self-affirm. These findings indicate that the misfortunes of others can evoke schadenfreude because they provide people with an opportunity to protect or enhance their self-views.
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