Envy and Jealousy: The New York Times Explains the Difference For You

Self is on the Science section of yesterday’s New York Times.  So fascinating!  The Times and The Economist have the best Science reporters.

In an article on p. D2, Times writer John Tierney explains the difference between envy and jealousy.  It seems that researchers at Texas Christian University and the University of Texas-Austin were doing a study to examine “quintessential envy, which is distinct from jealousy.  Envy involves a longing for what you don’t have, while jealousy is provoked by losing something to someone else.  If you crave a wife like Angelina Jolie, you’re envious of Brad Pitt; if you’re upset about losing your wife to him, you’re jealous.”

So here’s how the researchers conducted their study:

They showed college students a half dozen bogus newspaper interviews and photographs of other purported students at their school.  Female students saw photos of other young women, while male students saw photos of other men.  Both sexes saw a similar mix of people, including some described by the researchers as “advantaged peers.”

In the photographs, some of the fictitious students were hot and some were not.  The interviews revealed clear disparities in wealth.  One mentioned owning a new BMW; another drove an old clunker.  One had a parent on the board of trustees of the school, another received financial aid.

As the real students went through each of these profiles, the researchers asked them about their own emotions and measured how long they spent studying each one.  Sure enough, they spent more time contemplating the ones toward which they expressed envy:  the good-looking students with new BMWs and rich parents.  And afterward they were better able to recall the names and other details of these “high-envy targets.”

The results show that envy can “evoke a functionally coordinated cascade of cognitive processes . . .  ”  One of the researchers, Sarah E. Hill, said, “We can’t get our minds off people who have advantages we want for ourselves.”

Self really loves the term “high-envy targets.”  She doesn’t consider Jolie a “high-envy target.”  Who, then, are self’s “high-envy targets”?  Good one.  She’ll have to ponder that a bit more.

Okay, how about this:  Any writer younger than 30 who’s already been anointed by Granta or The New Yorker as “The Next Great American Writer.”  Talk about having “the whole world on a plate” — !

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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