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How intergroup counter-empathy drives media consumption and engagement

Robin Wakefield (Department of Information Systems and Business Analytics, Baylor University, Waco, Texas, USA)
Kirk Wakefield (Department of Marketing, Baylor University, Waco, Texas, USA)

Internet Research

ISSN: 1066-2243

Article publication date: 4 July 2023




Social media is replete with malicious and unempathetic rhetoric yet few studies explain why these emotions are publicly dispersed. The purpose of the study is to investigate how the intergroup counter-empathic response called schadenfreude originates and how it prompts media consumption and engagement.


The study consists of two field surveys of 635 in-group members of two professional sports teams and 300 residents of California and Texas with political party affiliations. The analysis uses SEM quantitative methods.


Domain passion and group identification together determine the harmonious/obsessive tendencies of passion for an activity and explain the schadenfreude response toward the rival out-group. Group identification is a stronger driver of obsessive passion compared to harmonious passion. Schadenfreude directly influences the use of traditional media (TV, radio, domain websites), it triggers social media engagement (posting), and it accelerates harmonious passion's effects on social media posting.

Research limitations/implications

The study is limited by the groups used to evaluate the research model, sports, and politics.

Social implications

The more highly identified and passionate group members experience greater counter-empathy toward a rival. At extreme levels of group identification, obsessive passion increases at an increasing rate and may characterize extremism. Harboring feelings of schadenfreude toward the out-group prompts those with harmonious passion for an activity to more frequently engage on social media in unempathetic ways.


This study links the unempathetic, yet common emotion of schadenfreude with passion, intergroup dynamics, and media behavior.



Wakefield, R. and Wakefield, K. (2023), "How intergroup counter-empathy drives media consumption and engagement", Internet Research, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



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