Social comparative emotions are elicited when there is a reflection and comparison of one’s personal attributes with an individual or group of others who may pose a threat to the self. Social comparative emotions are evoked when there appears to be large a discrepancy between the self and another, in domains that are important and valued by the individual. Social comparative emotions such as jealousy and envy are developmental in nature and cognitively complex. Jealousy and envy are grouped with emotions of guilt and shame as problematic negative self-conscious emotions since these emotions arise from comparisons with a standard in which the individual comes up short and is left in a state of wanting, each emotion involves a threat to the self, and all emotions are fundamentally interpersonal (with jealousy and envy being explicitly interpersonal). Jealousy and envy are inherent emotions in sport and exercise contexts that are laden with performance accomplishments, competition and cooperation, and physical appearance and function comparisons.
Characteristics of Envy and Jealousy
The distinction between the emotions of jealousy and envy has been blurred and confounded, in part since given the similar characterizations involving social comparison processes and an innate motivation to maintain positive self-evaluations. Targets of envy and jealousy tend to be individuals who are perceived to be similar to the individual on attributes such as sex, age, social class, sport position, or ability (e.g., a quarterback might feel envious of another team’s quarterback). Given that feelings of envy and jealousy arise when a comparison is made in a domain that is important to the self, individuals who place importance on perceptions of physical appearance and performance (arguably most exercisers and athletes) may be prone to heightened envy and jealousy emotions.
Jealousy is experienced when the individual already possesses a desired tangible object or attribute yet feels threatened that he or she may lose this possession to another individual. Specifically, jealousy results when the superiority of one person threatens the self-worth of another person and diminishes the individual’s status. The threat involves a perceived loss of a relationship to a rival. For example, a soccer player who has a strong rapport and friendship with the head coach may experience jealousy when another teammate receives praise or extra attention after making a successful play. Jealousy may also be experienced as a fitness partner continues to improve while the other partner does not—the inferior partner may fear the loss of the partnership to an individual of equal or superior fitness qualities. Affective components of jealousy include fear of loss, distrust, anger over betrayal, and uncertainty about the circumstances.
Envy is experienced when an individual wishes he or she possessed the objects or personal attributes of another that the individual himself or herself lacks. Envy is a negative emotion that is characterized by feelings of inferiority, hostility, and resentment. Generally categorized as an undesirable emotion, envy is associated with detrimental behaviors such as diminishing the envied person’s advantage or feeling pleased when the envied person suffers or loses their advantage (e.g., when an envied fitness partner or teammate gets injured and loses some strength or performance).
There are two distinctions in the semantics of envious experiences. Benign envy is described as longing for or a coveting of what another possesses but lacking feelings of hostility. This type of envy results from an upward comparison where an individual perceives himself or herself as inferior to another with regard to a possession or attribute but without a sense of injustice in the envied individual’s superiority. This type of envy places the emphasis on the possession rather than the individual and consists of an appreciation and admiration of a possession—for example, a golfer who compares herself to a Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) player and is envious of the professional athlete’s putting skill. Since benign envy is not associated with hostile feelings, it is generally admitted more openly and honestly. Benign envy can be a motivating force to achieve the envied target; however, this depends on an individual perceiving behavioral control (i.e., he or she believes that the goal is within reach).
In contrast, malicious envy is described as an unjust feeling and desire for the envied individual to lack a desired trait. Malicious envy can manifest itself as others’ perceived superiority in certain dispositional attributes such as intelligence, athletic ability, and physical attributes that may cause feelings of injustice for the inherent nature of (i.e., not being born with) these traits. For example, competitors may envy a lean and petite gymnast who they believe spends less time practicing due to her ideal sport-specific body type and feel ill will toward her (e.g., hoping the gymnast gains weight). Malicious envy places emphasis on the person being envied, rather than the possession. Due to social stigma associated with these feelings of malicious envy, it is highly unlikely to be openly admitted or discussed. This type of envy has been linked with predisposing individuals to feel pleasure at the downfall of the envied person, an emotion termed schadenfreude. Therefore, envy can manifest itself in various degrees of severity, ranging from resentment of another’s successes, lessening importance of personal goals to diminish other’s advantage, to pleasure in watching an envied other fail.
Psychological and Behavioral Outcomes
A high disposition to experience envy and jealousy has been associated with lower self-esteem, anger, irritability, anxiety, obsessive–compulsive tendencies, neuroticism, and depression. Furthermore, characteristics of envy, such as hostility and resentment, have been reliably linked with increased blood pressure (BP), physiological stress response, and cardiovascular disease.
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