December 9, 2011


Shakespeare’s “Richard III” is one of my favorite plays. It offers a graphic depiction of a man riddled with envy. The same is true for another of the writer’s characters, Iago, who plots to bring down Othello rather than serve him. Like most of literature’s villains, both characters come to a bad end, an admonition that envy is a sin. But how like science to come along and turn the world on its head.


The “New York Times” recently reported that psychologists have been studying the effects of envy on the human brain and the results are surprising. In tests, college students were asked to recall instances when they coveted someone else’s belongings. Next, they were given a reading comprehension exam. The results showed that students who were asked to recall instances of envy prior to the test performed better than those who were not asked to do so.

Envy, it seems, heightens our powers of memory and observation. We tend to focus on the people we envy in the hope of learning how they succeeded. That, in turn, heightens our awareness and increases our comprehension. (“This Week,” 10/28/11 pg. 22)

I wish I’d have known this fact as a child. The nuns, I think, have some explaining to do. In the meantime, I wonder if there’s a study underway about guilt. If there’s any benefit to it, I’m bound to prosper.