Evolutionary Psychology Explanations: Why We’re Attracted to Suffering


[ This is part of the Evolutionary Psychology Explanation Series (EPES), where I explore the possibility of various human behaviors having roots in Evolution. I’m not a scientist or expert on Evolutionary Psychology, just someone who’s read several books on the topic and who likes to understand the world. Some hypothesis will be good; others will not. ]

Evolutionary Psychology is basically a lens for understanding human behavior based on the idea that Evolution compels us to want and pursue certain things. The idea is that we will do things, and act in certain ways, without knowing the reasons why, and we’re just now (in the last decade or so) increasingly figuring out that the reasons might be subconscious and based on Evolution.

So, here’s one that I’ve always wondered about: Why are people so attracted to the suffering of others?

My EPE (Evolutionary Psychology Explanation) is that we subconsciously enjoy seeing others fail. Not because we’re assholes, but because to our primitive brains the world is a zero-sum game.

  • If thousands of people die in an earthquake, that’s less people to feed

  • If there’s a massive car accident up ahead, that’s fewer people in the line at Safeway

  • If someone dies of some disease, the world is now more healthy

I think it explains another negative behavior as well: the unexplainable desire to see people of ones’ own type achieve victory.

Have you ever watched a competition, say a football (soccer) match where it’s mostly your race on one team and some other race on another?

Many liberals report that it can be quite alarming to be an open-minded person who finds themselves hoping the team wins that looks like them.

Same for fighting. If you’re Mexican and you see some random Mexican fighter fighting some random Asian guy, or Black guy, do you find yourself just automatically wanting the Mexican guy to win?

What if you find out the Black guy is American (like you), and the Mexican guy is from somewhere else?

But you still want the Mexican guy to win.

Why is that?

The EPE explanation is simple: Evolution makes us cheer for people who have the most similar genes. To Evolution, a fellow Mexican is almost like a family member when compared to someone who is genetically different from us, and evolution-wise we ALWAYS want our tribe to win.


  1. Maybe we like seeing people suffer because it makes the world easier for us with them gone

  2. Maybe we like seeing competitors of our race win because it serves as a proxy for genetic combat

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