Inside your brain is an abusive soccer dad.

Via Pink Tentacle, some news about one of the mortal sins (and everybody’s favourite Homunculus), envy:

New research from Japan shows that the human brain treats feelings of envy like physical pain, while schadenfreude — the pleasure derived from another person’s misfortune — triggers the brain’s reward circuits. The findings, published in the February 13 online edition of Science magazine, suggest our brains may be wired to treat abstract feelings much more like concrete physical experiences than was previously thought.

The experiment (which featured 19 university students getting fMRI’s) was actually a roundabout cognitive narratology experiment, too, in that it involved people reading a fictional story rather than being, say, asked to remember previous experiences of envy or schadenfreude before being scanned. The scans showed that in these students, envy lit up the anterior cingulate cortex (also responsible for reward anticipation and autonomic function), while schadenfreude lit up the ventrial striatum (buried way down in basal ganglia, apparently, which I guess means it showed up first?).

So yes, every time your competitors trump you, it actually hurts. Every time you fail and somebody else wins (read: every time anybody fails at anything, ever), you literally beat yourself up. While all your friends are telling you it’s an honour just to be nominated, a whole segment of brainspace is already undoing its figurative belt.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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