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Daniel has fallen into a muddy puddle – Schadenfreude or sympathy?



The present study investigated the experience of schadenfreude among children. Participants were 4- to 8-year-old children (= 100) who were told stories of another child experiencing a misfortune while pursuing a morally positive versus morally negative goal. Schadenfreude, sympathy, and helping behaviour towards the suffering child were assessed. Results showed that beginning at the age of 4, emotional and behavioural reactions towards a misfortune of another child were predicted by the moral valence of the other child's goal. Furthermore, morally negative goals decreased helping behaviour and morally positive goals increased helping behaviour. Multilevel mediation analysis revealed that the relation between goal valence and helping behaviour was mediated by both schadenfreude and sympathy. However, those effects were especially pronounced in older children.