Groups end up being more competitive than individuals. This “individual-group discontinuity effect” is remarkably robust and easily replicated. Why? First, it is easier to serve the interests of our group than our own narrow interests without seeming greedy. Second, we are apt to see it as our duty as a loyal group member to favor our group. Far from feeling greedy, we take pride in serving our group’s interests. Third, we are much more likely to attribute competitive motives, as well as a host of other negative traits, to outgroups than to individuals; outgroups are more difficult to trust and thus require our vigilance. Finally, any aggressive actions we do take seem to be a collective group action rather than our own individual action, and this diffuses our responsibility for the nastiness that may result.

The Joy of Pain: Schadenfreude

Richard H. Smith