Flinders brings knowledge to national psychology conference

norm-featherWhen the world watches a celebrity, sporting great or other “tall poppy” fall from grace, do we feel sorry for them or take pleasure in their demise?

The answer, according to Flinders University psychology expert Norman Feather (pictured), depends on whether or not we feel the person deserves their misfortune.

“Deservingness is a very important variable in our feelings of schadenfreude or, in other words, our feelings of pleasure in someone else’s negative outcome,” Emeritus Professor Feather said.

“Consider, for example, a student who doesn’t study and doesn’t get good grades – we might say they got their just deserts because they didn’t really put enough effort in.

“So the positive or negative emotion you experience has some relation to how you judge whether or not the person deserved the outcome.”

Professor Feather’s long-running research into tall poppies, and more recent focus on deservingness and its role in shaping how people feel about another’s feats or failures, is the focus of an upcoming keynote address at the Annual Conference of the Australian Psychological Society next month.

As part of his Annual Fellows Address ‘Tall Poppies, Deservingness, and Schadenfreude’, Professor Feather will describe how his research on tall poppies – which began 20 years ago and has since been published in various academic journals – led him to explore the broader “justice-related variable” of deservingness and its relation to discrete emotions such as pride, guilt, resentment and sympathy.

“I think that’s the way a lot of research goes, you start asking questions which become more questions which can lead you in a whole new direction.

“But in my case it was an important direction because it opened up a whole range of ideas on deservingness and discrete emotions – a topic that hasn’t had a great deal of research in psychology and something that’s relatively new.”

While he has delivered his fair share of keynote speeches during his long and established career, Professor Feather said he was “honoured” nonetheless to be part of the Australian Psychological Society’s Annual Conference, to be held in Canberra on October 5.

“I’m happy to be invited and I think it’s a good opportunity to present some of the work we’ve been doing here at Flinders to a national and international audience.”

Professor Feather retired from Flinders in 2000 but continues to be an active contributor to research at the University.

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One thought on “Flinders brings knowledge to national psychology conference

  1. The “Tall Poppy” syndrome has long been a part of “Aussie” culture. The concept of “knocking” these “poppys” I believe comes from an inferiority complex. Granted there are some who gain their status in unethical ways. The “knockers” who I disagree with are the one who seek to hurt others who genuinely deserve what they have achieve. These people are coming from a place of resentment and rather than “having a go for themselves” the prefer to ostracize others. Mix this with the media providing their spin on a story and the whole story can become quite messy. If people focus more on what they what and what they can do to achieve it, then maybe we can all become “tall Poppys”.

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