Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Claudia Brumbaugh

Committee Members

Cheryl Carmichael

Hanah Chapman

Kristin Sommer

Justin Storbeck

Subject Categories

Personality and Social Contexts | Social Psychology


schadenfreude, attachment, prosocial behavior, empathy, competition, cooperation


When witnessing someone’s misfortune, some people may feel empathy and offer to help while others may feel schadenfreude (i.e., joy at other’s misfortunes) and not help. This research examined why people react to others with compassion while others respond more callously. I investigated how individual differences in attachment, empathy, personal distress, and schadenfreude, and the effects of competition versus cooperation, impacted prosocial behavior. As a novel contribution, I looked at attachment’s association with not only state schadenfreude but also trait schadenfreude. After developing a measure of trait schadenfreude (Study 1), I determined if attachment related to schadenfreude (Study 2) and explored attachment as a potential moderator of the effects of competition and cooperation (Study 3). To assess how individual and situational differences impacted helping behavior, I used real interactions (i.e., a confederate asking for help). A major contribution of this research was the development and validation of a new scale measuring trait schadenfreude. I also provided new evidence in how people’s attachment impacted reactions toward others’ misfortunes. Results showed that insecure attachment related to more negative reactions (e.g., more schadenfreude) toward another’s suffering. While findings on helping behavior were less robust, empathy’s impact on helping behavior depended on attachment avoidance. People also differed in how much empathy they felt toward a competitor or ally depending on their attachment. By using an attachment theoretical perspective, this research contributed to the field of prosocial behavior research by advancing the understanding of how personality and situations impact reactions toward suffering others.