Jealousy and Envy
Martin P. East
Fraser N. Watts
University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
In this chapter, we provide an overview of two of the most intriguing of the socalled “complex” emotions. Both jealousy and envy are concerned with possessing some valued thing. Jealousy typically concerns what one possesses and fears to lose, whereas envy concerns what one does not have but would like to have. In practice, however, the “what” in question is different: while there are many things we can envy a person for possessing, jealousy, especially as discussed in the psychological literature, usually takes place in the context of a threat to a valued romantic/sexual relationship. Research on jealousy and envy has been carried out largely separately, apart from a small quantity of work looking at how people distinguish between them; consequently, they will be dealt with mainly separately here. Although emotional reactions labelled as “jealous” may occur in other situations, such as between siblings or friends, due to a paucity of work in these areas we confine ourselves to a discussion of the jealousy which occurs within romantic/sexual relationships. Romantic jealousy is probably also the most powerful and salient form of the emotion (Bringle, 1991).
In contrast with the copious attention which both jealousy and envy have received in prose and poetry, they have been neglected in the research literature in comparison with emotions such as depression, anxiety and anger. Part of the explanation for this lies in the difficulty of establishing any consensus about what jealousy and envy actually are. Van Sommers (1988) has argued that the range of jealous experience is such that we will never attain a single all-encompassing theory to account for it. Moreover, both jealousy and envy are complex and inextricable from the social structures and rules in which they are embedded.