When people want what others have: The impulsive side of envious desire

Jan Crusius*, Thomas Mussweiler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

99 Citations (Scopus)


Envy is the unpleasant emotion that can arise when people are exposed to others with superior possessions. Common wisdom and scholarly opinion suggest that when people experience envy they may be motivated to obtain the others' superior possession. Despite the vast interpersonal, societal, and economical consequences attributed to this potential aspect of envious responding, experimental demonstrations of the affective and behavioral consequences of envy-inducing situations are scarce. We propose that social comparisons with better-off others trigger an impulsive envious response that entails a behavioral tendency to strive for their superior good. However, given that the experience of envy is painful, self-threatening, and met with social disapproval, people typically attempt to control their envious reactions. Doing so requires self-control capacities, so that envious reactions may only become apparent if self-control is taxed. In line with these predictions, four experiments show that only when self-control resources are taxed, upward comparisons elicit envy paired with an increased willingness to pay for, to spontaneously purchase and to impulsively approach the superior good.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)142-153
Number of pages12
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Approach and avoidance
  • Envy
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Self-control
  • Social comparison


Dive into the research topics of 'When people want what others have: The impulsive side of envious desire'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this