No one really knows why some people are sadistic. The dark mirror of empathy this is Sadism, a case where people have enjoyed the pain and suffering of others for thousands of years. The advantages of a sadistic impulse are still apparent today – in many settings, including prisons and schools, aggression and violence can confer social status. In the workplace, deriving pleasure from others’ losses could provide the impetus to win promotion or earn more money.
Whatever its advantages, sadism causes untold suffering. It’s associated with bullying, for example, which can have a serious negative impact on victims’ mental health for years after the bullying has ended.
The researchers exploring vicarious forms of sadism, such as enjoying cruelty in movies, video games, and sports, they believe their findings have the potential to inform research and policy on domestic abuse, bullying, animal abuse, and cases of military and police brutality.
The capacity to experience pleasure at others’ distress exists, to some degree, in many of us.