In a study that aimed to discover something completely different, neuroscientists may have discovered the brain cells associated with schadenfreude, or the joy that comes from another person's suffering. Neuroscientists studying the neurons associated with observational learning—that is, learning by watching how others succeed or fail at certain tasks—stumbled upon this discovery when they analyzed the brain activity of 10 epileptic patients as they played a card game. The participants were asked to draw a card from one of two decks, one that gave them a 30% chance of winning and the other gave them a 70% chance of winning. The participants were allowed to watch two others play the same game so they could figure out which deck gave them the best odds.
Here's what the researchers noticed: brain cells in the area of the brain responsible for emotion, social interactions, and decision-making changed their activity depending on whether the player thought their opponents would win or lose, then changed again depending on whether their guess was correct. But the most interesting finding was that those brain cells showed increased activity both when a player won and when their opponents lost, and decreased activity when their opponents won. This suggests that these neurons may be associated with that feeling of schadenfreude we experience when other people fail. Check out these videos to learn more about why we sometimes feel good when others feel bad.