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New Study Reveals Stability of Dispositional Envy Over 6 Years

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In a new longitudinal study published in the European Journal of Personality, researchers have provided compelling evidence on the stability of dispositional envy. The study offers significant insights into how envy functions as an emotional trait over time.

Dispositional envy, often viewed as an emotion that fluctuates with circumstances, was scrutinised over a span of six years to determine its stability. The researchers aimed to fill a gap in understanding by providing longitudinal data, a rarity in the study of social emotional traits. The study involved 1,229 German participants, with ages ranging from 18–88, and was conducted over three waves in 2013, 2017, and 2019.

The study found that both global and domain-specific dispositional envy remained remarkably stable over the course of six years. Rank-order stability, which measures the consistency of individuals’ relative standings on envy over time, was high. Global dispositional envy had a rank-order stability coefficient of 0.78, while domain-specific envy, such as envy related to competence, attraction, and wealth, ranged from 0.75 to 0.80.

Another critical measure, mean-level change, which looks at average changes in envy levels across the population, showed minimal fluctuations. This finding suggests that, on average, people’s levels of dispositional envy do not significantly increase or decrease over time.

The researchers employed latent state-trait modelling to distinguish between stable traits and occasion-specific factors influencing envy. The results revealed that 80% of the variance in global dispositional envy could be attributed to a stable trait factor. This means that a significant portion of envy is due to enduring personal characteristics rather than temporary situational factors.

The findings support the conceptualisation of envy as a stable emotional trait rather than a state heavily influenced by transient conditions. This stability parallels that of other well-established personality traits, such as the Big Five. The study’s robust methodology and longitudinal design provide a strong empirical foundation for understanding envy as an integral part of personality.

Understanding the stability of dispositional envy has practical implications, particularly in the realms of mental health and organisational behaviour. For instance, recognising that envy is a stable trait can guide interventions aimed at mitigating its negative impacts, such as workplace hostility or social undermining. Additionally, this insight can inform therapeutic approaches that help individuals manage their envy more effectively.

Participants were recruited from a volunteer pool in Germany and assessed at three different points in time. The study used the Domain-Specific Envy Scale (DSES) to measure envy across three domains: attraction, competence, and wealth. The scale’s reliability and validity have been established in previous research, making it a robust tool for longitudinal analysis.

The researchers utilised confirmatory factor models to analyse the data. They tested for measurement invariance to ensure that the relationship between indicators and latent factors remained consistent over time. The stability of envy was then examined using latent regression analyses and true intraindividual change models (TICM).

The study also explored how age and gender influenced dispositional envy. Younger participants exhibited higher initial levels of envy, aligning with previous findings that negative affect generally decreases with age. Women reported higher initial levels of envy compared to men, but no significant gender differences were observed in the stability or mean-level change of envy over time.

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