By Casey Johnston
The year is 2007 and your friend pulls a shiny new iPhone out of his pocket. It's the first one you've ever seen, and you stare agape as he lovingly taps the screen. A feeling starts to bubble up inside—contempt? Rage? Hunger? No—it's that biblically reviled emotion we know as envy.
While it's no secret that envy often drives us to action, it's only recently that scientists have realized there might be a brighter side to envy, at least for businesses. Some assume that generating envy will boost sales, but just as often pushing for envy seems to create resentment and sales slump. According to a recent study that involved perception of iPhones, this envy response can actually be tuned based on different factors that push consumers toward or away from a product.
To study envy, a group of researchers at Tilburg University in the Netherlands undertook a few different experiments with students there. They all involved inviting participants to compare themselves to individuals who had received some sort of windfall in life, and seeing how it affected their outlooks on life.