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Martin Hash
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Post by Martin Hash » Tue Jan 18, 2011 7:19 am

After fear, envy is the most fundamental of emotions. Virtually every high-level decision, those thoughts that separate humans from the lower primates, is first tinged by envy before a person fully considers them. In fact, envy is so primitive that unless you maintain your awareness that it is there, you may not recognize that it needs to be stripped from your thought-equations before you settle on an answer. It is telling that our envy for the perceived success of others is so powerful that it controls every aspect of how we act yet we deny this truth so completely that there is not even a word in English for it. More candid, in Germany it is called “schadenfreude,” which means the pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.

Envy is so universal because it is actually hardwired into your physiology. In fact, your brain is stimulated both by envy and satisfaction at the misfortunes of others. Using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to monitor brain centers, researchers found that envy activates the brain’s pain centers, while news of an envied person’s subsequent misfortune stimulated the brain’s reward centers at a corresponding magnitude. Also, the hormone oxytocin increases those reactions.

Obviously these physical manifestations must be grounded in evolutionary pressure, probably because the superlative accomplishments of a rival lead to more and better mating opportunities, plus the advantages in food procurement as well as general improvement in living conditions that a more capable or lucky competitor would enjoy. When limited resources are involved, the gain of one would be at the expense of the other, which makes it imperative that the less fortunate individual or group prevent successful indulgence by competitors.

Envy is the most universal explanation of seemingly unexplainable “human” behavior. People will respond in perverse ways towards those they feel envious towards, normally in a passive-aggressive fashion, so detecting the “attack” is difficult. However, knowing is halfway to defending – you can predict that the motivations underlying suggestions and communications with other people will be heavily tinged by envy, and you can adjust your response accordingly.
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