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Corticostriatal signatures of schadenfreude: evidence from Huntington’s disease
  1. Sandra Baez1,2,3,4,
  2. Mariana Pino5,
  3. Mildred Berrío5,
  4. Hernando Santamaría-García1,3,4,6,
  5. Lucas Sedeño1,4,
  6. Adolfo M García1,4,7,
  7. Sol Fittipaldi1,4,
  8. Agustín Ibáñez1,4,5,8,9
  1. 1 Laboratory of Experimental Psychology and Neuroscience (LPEN), Institute of Cognitive and Translational Neuroscience (INCyT), INECO Foundation, Favaloro University, Buenos Aires, Argentina
  2. 2 Deparment of Psychology, Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia
  3. 3 Grupo de Investigación Cerebro y Cognición Social, Bogotá, Colombia
  4. 4 National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), Buenos Aires, Argentina
  5. 5 Department of Psychology, Universidad Autónoma del Caribe, Barranquilla, Colombia
  6. 6 Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogotá, Colombia
  7. 7 Faculty of Education, National University of Cuyo (UNCuyo), Mendoza, Argentina
  8. 8 Center for Social and Cognitive Neuroscience (CSCN), School of Psychology, Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez, Santiago de Chile, Chile
  9. 9 Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders, Australian Research Council, Sydney, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Agustín Ibáñez, Laboratory of Experimental Psychology and Neuroscience (LPEN), Institute of Cognitive and Translational Neuroscience (INCyT), Institute of Cognitive Neurology (INECO) and CONICET, Pacheco de Melo 1860, Buenos Aires 1126, Argentina; aibanez{at}


Schadenfreudepleasure at others’ misfortunes—is a multidetermined social emotion which involves reward processing, mentalising and perspective-taking abilities. Patients with Huntington’s disease (HD) exhibit reductions of this experience, suggesting a role of striatal degeneration in such impairment. However, no study has directly assessed the relationship between regional brain atrophy in HD and reduced schadenfreude. Here, we assessed whether grey matter (GM) atrophy in patients with HD correlates with ratings of schadenfreude. First, we compared the performance of 20 patients with HD and 23 controls on an experimental task designed to trigger schadenfreude and envy (another social emotion acting as a control condition). Second, we compared GM volume between groups. Third, we examined brain regions where atrophy might be associated with specific impairments in the patients. While both groups showed similar ratings of envy, patients with HD reported lower schadenfreude. The latter pattern was related to atrophy in regions of the reward system (ventral striatum) and the mentalising network (precuneus and superior parietal lobule). Our results shed light on the intertwining of reward and socioemotional processes in schadenfreude, while offering novel evidence about their neural correlates.

  • envy
  • social emotions
  • gray matter atrophy
  • ventral striatum

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  • Contributors SB, MP, MB, LS and AI developed the study concept and the study design. MP and MB performed testing and data collection. SB, LS, HS-G and SF performed the data analysis and interpretation under the supervision of AI and AMG. SB, HS-G and SF drafted the manuscript, and MP, MB, AI and AMG provided critical revisions. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript for submission.

  • Funding This work was partially supported by grants from CONICET, CONICYT/FONDECYT Regular (1170010), COLCIENCIAS (1115-545-31374, contract: 392), FONCyT-PICT 2012-0412, FONCyT-PICT 2012-1309, FONDAP 15150012, the HD Lorena Scarafiocca foundation and the INECO Foundation.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Ethics approval Ethics Committee of the Autonomous Caribbean University.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.