Science: Internet Trolls Are Narcissistic, Psychopathic, Sadistic

Science Confirms: Internet Trolls Really Are Narcissistic, Psychopathic, and Sadistic


Narcissistic, Machiavellian, psychopathic, and sadistic. 

In the past few years, the science of Internet trollology has made some strides. Last year, for instance, we learned that by hurling insults and inciting discord in online comment sections, so-called Internet trolls (who are frequently anonymous) have a polarizing effect on audiences, leading to politicization, rather than deeper understanding of scientific topics.

That’s bad, but it’s nothing compared with what a new psychology paper has to say about the personalities of trolls themselves. The research, conducted by Erin Buckels of the University of Manitoba and two colleagues, sought to directly investigate whether people who engage in trolling are characterized by personality traits that fall in the so-called Dark Tetrad: Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others), narcissism (egotism and self-obsession), psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), and sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others).

It is hard to underplay the results: The study found correlations, sometimes quite significant, between these traits and trolling behavior. What’s more, it also found a relationship between all Dark Tetrad traits (except for narcissism) and the overall time that an individual spent, per day, commenting on the Internet.

In the study, trolls were identified in a variety of ways. One was by simply asking survey participants what they “enjoyed doing most” when on online comment sites, offering five options: “debating issues that are important to you,” “chatting with others,” “making new friends,” “trolling others,” and “other.” Here’s how different responses about these Internet commenting preferences matched up with responses to questions designed to identify Dark Tetrad traits:

E.E. Buckels et al, "Trolls just want to have fun," Personality and Individual Differences, 2014.

To be sure, only 5.6 percent of survey respondents actually specified that they enjoyed “trolling.” By contrast, 41.3 percent of Internet users were “non-commenters,” meaning they didn’t like engaging online at all. So trolls are, as has often been suspected, a minority of online commenters, and an even smaller minority of overall Internet users.

The researchers conducted multiple studies, using samples from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk but also of college students, to try to understand why the act of trolling seems to attract this type of personality. They even constructed their own survey instrument, which they dubbed the Global Assessment of Internet Trolling, or GAIT, containing the following items:

I have sent people to shock websites for the lulz.

I like to troll people in forums or the comments section of websites.

I enjoy griefing other players in multiplayer games.

The more beautiful and pure a thing is, the more satisfying it is to corrupt.

Yes, some people actually say they agree with such statements. And again, doing so was correlated with sadism in its various forms, with psychopathy, and with Machiavellianism. Overall, the authors found that the relationship between sadism and trolling was the strongest, and that indeed, sadists appear to troll because they find it pleasurable. “Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others,” they wrote. “Sadists just want to have fun … and the Internet is their playground!”

The study comes as websites, particularly at major media outlets, are increasingly weighing steps to rein in trollish behavior. Last year Popular Science did away with its comments sections completely, citing research on the deleterious effects of trolling, and YouTube also took measures to rein in trolling.

But study author Buckels actually isn’t sure that fix is a realistic one. “Because the behaviors are intrinsically motivating for sadists, comment moderators will likely have a difficult time curbing trolling with punishments (e.g., banning users),” she said by email. “Ultimately, the allure of trolling may be too strong for sadists, who presumably have limited opportunities to express their sadistic interests in a socially-desirable manner.”

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This entry was posted on February 15, 2014, 6:01 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

  1. #1 by kittie kittie on February 15, 2014 – 7:10 pm

    Study investigators (or the article’s author because I have not read the original source) poorly understand basic interpersonal communications, online communications, and human nature. The article does not define “trolling”. If a commenter disagrees with a particular article or post, then this commenter is labeled a “troll” in order to delegitimize the commenter’s contribution irrespective of the validity of the comment. The “troll” label is used to control the conversation.
    If I leave a sincere comment on a white or Jew nationalist website because the information disagrees with my values, then this is not trolling. Trolling is communicating with others for the sole purpose of causing emotional grief whether the content of the communication is true or false.
    The article mentions “narcissistic personalities”. Narcissistic personalities are often the target of trolls and not necessarily a personality trait of a troll.
    Hasbara uses trolling and other methods as propaganda tools in order to disrupt meaningful discourse and mask Truth.
    There are internet resources available.
  2. #2 by Daniel Noel on February 15, 2014 – 8:53 pm

    At the risk of appearing as a troublemaker, I’ll humbly add that in a sensibly organized society trolling would be seen as some collective mental disease and treated as such. Some global benevolent NSA would swiftly identify trolls, discreetly investigate their private lives, and take appropriate measures to clear the problem at its source, namely the trolls’ brains. In most cases, just notifying the troll of the finding of her/his inappropriate behavior would be sufficient. In the extreme yet real cases of a genetically-induced psychopathy, it would mean drugging the troll against her/his will and providing her/him at public expense with shelter, food, pain-killing, and entertainment, which could conceivably include the use of some interactive software that the troll could emotionally abuse until (s)he dies of pleasure. Public money well spent into public service…
    Of course, the sensible idea of benevolent public service is laughable as long as most of humanity ignores elementary psychology. But this is another story.
  3. #3 by Anna Ruyssenaars on February 15, 2014 – 10:54 pm

    Thank you.
    Machiavellian, narcissistic, psychopathic, sexually and otherwise sadistic, and women-hating,
    that is the very best definition of the religious and/or political phallocratic Patriarchs,
    their trolling dogmas and necrophiliac institutions !!!
  4. #4 by NLG on February 15, 2014 – 10:59 pm

    Do not ask for whom the troll trolleth, for he trolleth for thee… The weird thing is, the hasbaratchiks actually get paid to troll the social networks. And now, they’ve got Mossad to help in the counter-offensive against those who criticize Israel.
  5. #5 by michael mazur on February 15, 2014 – 11:52 pm

    What i read into this is that if anyone is detected as having in huge measure any of the four elements of the Dark Tetrad, then, as we see in the graph, it follows that all of the other three, as tightly bound to each other as they are to the momentarily overt one, will also be lurking in that person, anyone of which is just brimming to spill over, given a dovetailing prompt from the social context.
  6. #6 by Monte Kombi on February 16, 2014 – 2:05 am

    sorry but in the political forums the trolls I dealt with had an agenda. Yes they have these sick personalities but its not pointless. They have an agenda and most of the time I could see them sitting there with their GIYUS membership and JIDF memberships and even getting paid a few dollars an hour to sit in a stingy basement in Tel Aviv and get paid with kidnapped Ukrainian sex slaves locked up in the basements across the road from them.

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