New! Sign up for our free email newsletter.
Science News
from research organizations

Pie in the face? Why inflicting mild pain on others pays off

Insights provided on when 'schadenfreude' boosts charitable donations

June 20, 2024
University of California - Riverside
A marketing professor articulates the appeal of inflicting mild misfortune on others, such as tossing pies into faces, for the purpose of charitable fundraising. The paper provides insights on how to best use this strategy to maximize charitable donations.

Oh, the joy of inflicting pain upon others. The Germans have a word for it: schadenfreude, meaning "malicious pleasure." And tapping into its sentiment properly can, ironically, do a lot of good by raising money for charity.

In a groundbreaking paper published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, UC Riverside School of Business marketing professor and associate dean Thomas Kramer and co-authors articulate and quantify the appeal of schadenfreude (pronounced Sha-den-froid-e) through the lens of marketing psychology.

Through a series of behavioral scenario studies, their paper provides insights for the highly competitive charitable fundraising industry, which gathers some $485 billion in the United States annually.

Firstly, those organizing fundraisers appealing to schadenfreude shouldn't get too carried away. Schadenfreude is about inflicting mild misfortune that falls comfortably short of sadism on those seen as deserving of the misfortune. We're talking about pies thrown into faces and plunges into water tanks -- not anything too painful or damaging.

In fact, when participants of Kramer's studies imagined celebrities they disliked getting shocked with a taser gun, the fundraising potential wasn't as strong as seeing the same celebrities receive the milder misfortune of getting drenched with a bucket of ice water.

"If a disliked person gets more than their just desserts, and they're severely punished, you no longer feel happy about that punishment, and donations go down," explained Kramer, who applies his expertise in behavioral psychology to marketing science.

Kramer's other key findings include:

• To maximize donations, the donor can inflict or observe the mild misfortune, and those who inflict donate roughly the same as those who watch.

• The donors also must have disdain for the person receiving the misfortune, which elicits pleasure when they see that person get their punishment.

The study was conducted by having hundreds of participants at the University of Florida and those recruited through a crowdsourcing service called Amazon Mechanical Turk imagine various Schadenfreude scenarios.

In one example, they rated levels of dislike and deservingness of the person receiving the misfortune and how much they would donate (between zero and $10) to throw a pie into that person's face. Higher levels of deservingness resulted in higher payments. In another scenario, more mild misfortune paid better than severe misfortune.

The paper's title is "The Ironic Impact of Schadenfreude: When the Joy of Inflicting Pain Leads to Increased Prosocial Behavior." Its co-authors are Yael Zemack-Rugar of University of Central Florida, Orlando, and Laura Boman of Kennesaw State University, Georgia.

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of California - Riverside. Original written by David Danelski. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Yael Zemack‐Rugar, Laura Boman, Thomas Kramer. The ironic impact of schadenfreude: When the joy of inflicting pain leads to increased prosocial behavior. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 2024; DOI: 10.1002/jcpy.1426

Cite This Page:

University of California - Riverside. "Pie in the face? Why inflicting mild pain on others pays off." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 June 2024. <>.
University of California - Riverside. (2024, June 20). Pie in the face? Why inflicting mild pain on others pays off. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 17, 2024 from
University of California - Riverside. "Pie in the face? Why inflicting mild pain on others pays off." ScienceDaily. (accessed July 17, 2024).

Explore More

from ScienceDaily