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Can Jealousy Improve Your Memory?

From the Boston Globe:

Researchers asked people to write about situations when they felt envy and then to read fictitious interviews of other people. An envious mindset increased the time spent reading the interviews and improved subsequent recall for details from the interviews. In another experiment, researchers asked people to read fictitious interviews of wealthy or poor, attractive or unattractive, same-sex peers. Both men and women were envious of wealthy peers, but only women were envious of attractive peers. Again, envy predicted whether people paid attention to and could subsequently recall the details of the interviews. The researchers also found that envy-inspired recall accuracy was mentally draining.


In a series of 4 experiments, we provide evidence that—in addition to having an affective component—envy may also have important consequences for cognitive processing. Our first experiment (N = 69) demonstrated that individuals primed with envy better attended to and more accurately recalled information about fictitious peers than did a control group. Studies 2 (N = 187) and 3 (N = 65) conceptually replicated these results, demonstrating that envy elicited by targets predicts attention and later memory for information about them. We demonstrate that these effects cannot be accounted for by admiration or changes in negative affect or arousal elicited by the targets. Study 4 (N = 152) provides evidence that greater memory for envied—but not neutral—targets leads to diminished perseverance on a difficult anagram task. Findings demonstrate that envy may play an important role in attention and memory systems and deplete limited self-regulatory resources available for acts of volition.