A new study, published last week in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, from the University of Manitoba in Canada has helped shed some psychological insight on Internet trolls.
The hypothesis of the study, titled “Trolls Just Want to Have Fun,” was to see if there was a correlation between online trolling and personality traits found in what psychologists have deemed the “Dark Tetrad” of Personality. These traits include sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others), psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), narcissism (egotism and self-obsession) and Machivellianism (willingness to manipulate others). What their research found was that indeed there was a correlation between trolling and those personality traits and you can see so in the graph below. The most prevalent trait however was sadism, meaning trolls do what they do is because they enjoy the suffering they cause.
Here is a quote from the authors:
“Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others. Sadists just want to have fun … and the Internet is their playground!”
The study also found a relationship between all of the Dark Tetrad traits, with the exception of narcissism, and the overall time that an individual spent per day commenting on the internet. However the authors also found that enjoyment of other online activities, such as debating issues or chatting, had little to no correlation with any of the Dark Tetrad traits.
What the study also found was that trolls make up a small percentage of online commenters. 5.6% of survey respondents said they enjoyed trolling while 41.3% of respondents said they didn’t like engaging online at all.
In case you were wondering, the authors of the study defined trolling as such:
“practice of behaving in a deceptive, destructive, or disruptive manner in a social setting on the Internet with no apparent instrumental purpose.”
To test their hypothesis the authors had a two part test. The first was a survey where they asked respondents about their internet commentary styles. They asked them what they “enjoyed doing most” on online comment sites. Five options were given and they were: debating issues that are important to you, chatting with others, making new friends, trolling others, and other.
The second part was a personality inventory where they asked participants a series of statements and they had to say how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the statement. Examples of the statements include:
- 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 grieving other players in multiplayer games.
- The more beautiful and pure a thing is, the more satisfying it is to corrupt.
According to PsychCentral the study is not without its faults. First off, those performing the study never defined what trolling was to the participants. Trolling may mean different things to different people. In addition those surveyed came from Canadian colleges and from Amazon’ Mechanical Turk program, which lets people fill out surveys for a small amount of money. Not representative of the population.
An interesting study nonetheless.