It had to be the country that gave us the word ‘schadenfreude’ — the pleasure taken from someone else’s misfortune — that has scientifically found that people are left unhappy at someone else’s relative joy. The research conducted by the University of Bonn, Germany, is still preliminary and is yet to include data from the women. But the fact is that men are not motivated by the amount they earn but by earning more than their colleagues.
The study conducted among 38 men showed that the area of the brain that is the seat of the ‘reward system’, the ventral striatum, lights up not so much when a ‘good’ payment is earned, but when a ‘better’ payment is earned for the same task. This confirms an earlier study in which people were made to open envelopes with cash inside and allowed to keep the money for doing nothing. While there was happiness registered for getting a $ 50 note for doing nothing, this happiness turned to a grouse when the person witnessed another person getting $ 100 for, again, doing nothing.
So does this ‘revelation’ have ramifications in the world of political economy? The failure of the communist doctrine of equal distribution of wealth — therefore the need to apply other, more sinister methods to motivate workers — now makes sense. Also, it could explain why no matter what kind of increment you get this year, your New Year-eve party won’t be quite cheerful unless you know that your increment is bigger than your colleague’s. Which provides the management the opportunity to give both of you piddly raises, as it’s only about who gets more, rather than how much, that it’s all about.