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'True Blue' Employees Might Fear 'Green' Envy

Wonder why that employee of yours is so helpful to everyone else around the office? Maybe it’s just a good heart. Or…maybe he or she is worried that others are jealous.

New research finds that the fear of being the target of malicious envy makes people act more helpfully toward people who they think might be jealous of them.

The researchers determined in previous research that envy actually comes in two flavors: benign envy and malicious envy. They studied people who showed these two kinds of envy and found that people with benign envy were motivated to improve themselves, to do better so they could be more like the person they envied. On the other hand, people with malicious envy wanted to bring the more successful person down.

“In anthropology, they say if you are envied, you might act more socially afterward because you try to appease those envious people,” researcher Niels van de Ven of Tilburg University, in the Netherlands, said. “By sharing your big catch of fish, for example.”

The researchers discovered that people who had reason to think they’d be the target of malicious envy were more likely to take the time to give advice and were more helpful than those who were targets of benign envy.

The researchers also include Marcel Zeelenberg and Rik Pieters. Their work will appear in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.