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The Internet Science

Psychologists: Internet Trolls Are Narcissistic, Psychopathic, and Sadistic 293

Posted by Soulskill
from the in-related-news-psychologists-have-had-many-pizzas-sent-to-their-house dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Chris Mooney reports at Slate that research conducted by Erin Buckels of the University of Manitoba confirmed that people who engage in internet 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). 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.' The study recruited participants from Amazon's Mechanical Turk website and two measures of sadistic personality were administered (PDF): the Short Sadistic Impulse Scale and the Varieties of Sadistic Tendencies Scale. 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. 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. Sadists just want to have fun ... and the Internet is their playground!' The study comes as websites are increasingly weighing steps to rein in trollish behavior but the study authors aren'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),' says Buckels. '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.' Perhaps posting rights should only be unlocked if you pass a test."
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Psychologists: Internet Trolls Are Narcissistic, Psychopathic, and Sadistic

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  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Saturday February 15, 2014 @03:02PM (#46255423) Journal
    All it took was couple of regular guys to take the bait and post a couple of replies, and the trolls get another lease of life, almost like cockroaches getting one lick at the spilled grain of sugar and living for the next six months. Now the trolls get their own academic study and serious professors in horn rimmed glasses and slightly rumpled suits with food stains are going to discuss the trolls... No point in pleading "don't feed the trolls". They have just achieved immortality.
  • Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes

    Troll of the day

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Saturday February 15, 2014 @03:06PM (#46255445) Journal

    '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.'

    All we need to do is to create opportunities for the sadists to torture people in real life, and they will leave our precious internet alone.

    • Actually many are not sociopaths, but psychopaths meaning they would not want to do that to someone else as they would feel more remorse and somewhat empathy.

      However a pure stranger with no face on an internet chatroom is an easier target. Everyone when angry or has been wronged by someone else would feel a little justice when things catch up. The same anger that builds is easy to take out elsewhere with anonymity.

      Kids in inner city schools think it is funny as hell to make teachers angry and disrupt classr

    • by westlake (615356)

      All we need to do is to create opportunities for the sadists to torture people in real life, and they will leave our precious internet alone.

      I am not convinced that the sadist sees any distinction between his life online and off. That he can control his behavior or knows any other way to behave.

    • Well, ok, but how many PHB positions can you create before the economy can't carry them anymore?

      • by ultranova (717540)

        Well, ok, but how many PHB positions can you create before the economy can't carry them anymore?

        Put them into a ring. With enough layers of PHBs managing PHBs, you can have the "lowest" layer mange the "highest". The game of broken phone inherent in disorganizations makes sure orders and reports are utterly unrecognizable when they pass by the same person again.

    • by mysidia (191772)

      All we need to do is to create opportunities for the sadists to torture people in real life, and they will leave our precious internet alone.

      This is where human cloning and AI technology come in to create virtual playgrounds where trolls can evoke as much sadism as they like against enslaved AI-driven human clones, instead of real people.

      • Ok counting 1 ... 2 ... 3 ...

        expecting a slashdotter to chime in, "I am an AI-driven human clone you insensitive clod" any time now.

    • '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.'

      All we need to do is to create opportunities for the sadists to torture people in real life, and they will leave our precious internet alone.

      The DMV can only hire so many people and many trolls just aren't photogenic enough to be politicians.

  • by mysidia (191772) on Saturday February 15, 2014 @03:07PM (#46255447)

    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

    I will contend that a majority of persistent "trolls" would not necessarily answer on a survey that they enjoy trolling.

    (1) You will have trolls that claim to be 'debating issues that are important to you' ---- such as the poor speling or grammars of the postes that your are replying to.

    (2) You will have trolls that claim to be just 'chatting with others' --- a lie, because they don't want to admit on a survey that they actually enjoy trolling. It's all just innocent chatter.

    (3) You will have trolls that claim to be just 'making new friends' --- because they see the reponse as ironic and sarcastic, AND they being trolls -- they are going to try and troll the survey in order to skew your data.

    (4) You may also have intentional or unintentional occasional trolls that truthfully DO primarily do one of the first 3 things, and they identify themselves as doing those things moreso than trolling.

    (5) "Troll" is lingo --- you may have people who enjoy trolling, who have absolutely no idea what the word 'Troll' means.

    • by Teun (17872) on Saturday February 15, 2014 @03:16PM (#46255495) Homepage

      such as the poor speling or grammars of the postes that your are replying to

      Was that on purpose?

      Are you on the receiving end of spelling trolls? :)

    • by Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) on Saturday February 15, 2014 @03:19PM (#46255507) Homepage
      Good point. There is a second part of the study that addresses this issue is to some extent. [academia.edu]

      A limitation of Study 1 is that we asked participants to select their favorite activity from a list of options. This necessitated a categorical index of trolling that likely underestimated the effects. Hence in Study 2, we assessed enjoyment of each commenting activity (including trolling) on separate continuous scales. To rule out the possibility that overall Internet use explains relations with trolling, we also included a question about total time spent on line for use as a control variable. Finally, to triangulate on trolling with multiple measures, we constructed a second brief index:the Global Assessment of Internet Trolling (GAIT) scale, which assessed trolling behavior, identiïcation, and enjoyment. As in Study 1, measures of the Big Five were included for comparison. Study 2 also featured data from a larger and more diverse sample, furnishing us with enough statistical power to test hypotheses about the unique contributions of the Dark Tetrad. For reasons articulated earlier,we expected sadism to dominate personality effects on trolling. Thus we predicted that the relations between sadism and trolling would remain signiïcant even when controlling for overlap with psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism.

      • Hehe. They do seem to keep missing the point that putting a "Trolling" option automatically gives the trolls something to avoid though (thereby skewing their data). I mean, all their study is proving is that there is a certain type of troll who is narcissistic enough to enjoy admitting this fact to others... right?

    • by khasim (1285)

      (5) "Troll" is lingo --- you may have people who enjoy trolling, who have absolutely no idea what the word 'Troll' means.

      As is the case with the people who wrote that survey.

      They should have included examples of "trolling" to illustrate their points.

      a. You post "I like X". Someone follows that with "Only pussies like X." Is that person a "troll"?

      b. A new article is posted. The first comment is unrelated to the article and only contains racist/sexist/whatever comments. Is that person a "troll"?

      And so forth.

      I

      • by mysidia (191772)

        They should have included examples of "trolling" to illustrate their points.

        Yes... I suppose it is also a finer point, whether the poster views their posts as trollish, whether a plurality of the rest of the community views their posts as trollish, AND whether their assessments are in agreement.

        They would have done well to determine 'what trolling is' ... e.g. which criteria they will consider it, and ask respondents to rank agreement/disagreement on a 5-point scale for various facts about their post

    • by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Saturday February 15, 2014 @03:27PM (#46255555)

      I will contend that a majority of persistent "trolls" would not necessarily answer on a survey that they enjoy trolling.

      You make a lot of great points. I would add -- internet "trolling" is often the result of an anonymous or pseudonymous environment, where you are held less accountable for your actions. It's like the people who are happy to lay on the horn in their car or aggressively tailgate someone (or slow down to "teach someone a lesson"), but they would never randomly scream at someone who was walking too slow on the street or cut in front of them on a sidewalk and start walking slowly. Anonymity changes behavior.

      I'd say that anyone capable of aggressive anonymous driving behavior (which seems to be a LOT of folks, perhaps the majority of people at some point, depending on stress level) is also capable of trolling on the internet.

      Those people who actually self-identify as "trolls" in such a study are probably primarily either real outliers or people who actually aren't really trolls all the time, but found it amusing to select such a non-conformist choice (see your average Slashdot poll). Thus, the data may also be skewed by people who aren't primarily trolls but have other personality traits that led them to make an unusual choice in an internet poll.

      • by ultranova (717540)

        I would add -- internet "trolling" is often the result of an anonymous or pseudonymous environment, where you are held less accountable for your actions.

        Thus you feel safe to express your actual view on the matter without fear of (meaningful) retaliation from powers that be. The label "troll" is then used as an attempt to discredit this view, either to squash any perceived threat by the higher-ups or to protect their personal worldview from challenge by the grassroot members. This is typical, if primitive,

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by taustin (171655)

      (5) "Troll" is lingo --- you may have people who enjoy trolling, who have absolutely no idea what the word 'Troll' means.

      And, generally speaking, what it really means is "someone who says something that I don't like." I wonder if this study even bothered to define the term, and if so, if it's a measurable definition.

      • by khasim (1285)

        I wonder if this study even bothered to define the term, and if so, if it's a measurable definition.

        Not that I have seen in TFA.

        Not to mention that the term "troll" now has at least two sub-categories.
        a. concern troll

        b. tone troll

        And, generally speaking, what it really means is "someone who says something that I don't like."

        I wish I had mod points. That is particularly relevant in social issues.

        If you post about your political beliefs (honestly held) in a forum you tend to end up either in an echo chamber (

        • If you post about your political beliefs (honestly held)

          In a forum where you're reluctant to post your favourite sexual position (honesty held) why would you regard it as open season to post your political position (honesty held)?

          There's a way to engage with most issues without dragging in this or that ideological apparatus. The same applies to the political sub-genre known as organized religion. Evangelism is the most political act known to man. Religion itself is not necessarily political, but it quic

          • by epine (68316)

            In the above post: s/y/ly + s/ly/y.

            Man, what did I eat for lunch? Apparently, some kind of distal neurotoxin. This is a strange betrayal of the old fingers I've rarely experienced.

      • (5) "Troll" is lingo --- you may have people who enjoy trolling, who have absolutely no idea what the word 'Troll' means.

        And, generally speaking, what it really means is "someone who says something that I don't like."

        Sometimes it seems to mean that around here, depending on the mod.

        But it has a pretty well-accepted definition [wikipedia.org]: "In Internet slang, a troll is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a forum, chat room, or blog), either accidentally or with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion."

        I thin

        • by khasim (1285)

          I prefer the usage further down that article.

          Commonly, what is meant is a relatively gentle inside joke by veteran users, presenting questions or topics that had been so overdone that only a new user would respond to them earnestly. For example, a veteran of the group might make a post on the common misconception that glass flows over time. Long-time readers would both recognize the poster's name and know that the topic had been discussed a lot, but new subscribers to the group would not realize, and would

    • Furthermore, a lot of people are willing to troll on the internet because they feel it doesn't hurt anyone. Yeah, you make someone angry when you PK them WoW or whatever, but they need to get over that anyway. That's different than feeling pleasure because someone is suffering.
    • Clearly, no one in the history of survey design has ever considered the idea of an unreliable respondent until you came along.

      • by mysidia (191772)

        Clearly, no one in the history of survey design has ever considered the idea of an unreliable respondent until you came along.

        I am not claiming to have a novel point of view about what survey design should consider.

        My argument is that regardless of how the survey is designed: people whom a majority of the internet community population would identify as trolls are likely to almost always lie on the survey in some manner and fail to be identified as a troll.

        Meanwhile, their custom surveys are likely t

    • Nicely put.

      On number 5, q.v.: "astronomy vs. astrology" [slashdot.org]
    • "I will contend that a majority of persistent "trolls" would not necessarily answer on a survey that they enjoy trolling. "

      Yes, exactly. This study was only about people who admitted to being trolls. My guess is that the majority of people who troll intentionally would not admit to it when asked. I could be wrong, but that's my guess.

      So this correlation is not between "the dark tetrad" and trolls, but between that tedrad and people who freely admit they're trolls. I have seen nothing to indicate that the numbers would be even remotely the same for the majority (I think) of trolls who did not admit it.

    • 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

      What of the percentage of trolls who are in fact paid to post on particular political issues. If I were extremely wealthy and wanted to push public opinion in a certain direction, I think that hiring internet trolls would be a relatively inexpensive way of reaching the public.

  • by phantomfive (622387) on Saturday February 15, 2014 @03:08PM (#46255457) Journal
    Sadists are a misunderstood and marginalized segment of society. Can you imagine growing up as a sadist? How would you tell your parents? They would say, "oh, you're just trying to be mean." They don't understand that this is how you were born. They would say, "oh, you just need to be with a girl, get married, and she will soften you more." It is unacceptable to force sadists into the narrow confines of society's expectations. It is time for sadists and trolls everywhere to come out of the closet and stand for who they are.
  • Trolling with a "story" about trolling. It's troll all the way down here.
  • Like a letter and a phone call. They send you a self addressed stamped envelope. You send one half of the code via mail and call them with the other half.
    Accounts deactivate at a regular interval and need a reactivation code gets mailed. I'm sure someone can game this but it slows them down.

  • by Billly Gates (198444) on Saturday February 15, 2014 @03:14PM (#46255485) Journal

    In regards to the article I hate to say

    Boy, those guys at Microsoft sure know how to make great software. The fact is no other browser at work displays content right like IE 6. It is the best browser! Infact, the W3C is implementing things IE 6 had for years like rich text controls and displaying the box model ... the RIGHT WAY!

    Also I have to tell you McAffee and Norton are soo great and a real pleasure to use for the best OS in the world. Nothing makes me all in the mood when I have to see the pleasure of seeing a scan pop up during a lovely reboot but these wonderful products.

    In addition, FSF are a bunch of radical socialists from the Obama administration out to destroy your freedom. Just look at GCC and how RMS's radical views on commercial software made sure these tools can never be included in another program like kdevelop or Netbeans. I actually do not write software but think I know everything and like to chat crap from other people so I can laugh at all the responses HAHAH.

    This is why only BSD is the only true license etc and only vi should be used to read any licensing terms. Anyone who disagree's is an idiot, socialist, Obama voter, and needs to have lots of replies here and go waaay offtopic.

    Sincerely,

    Patrick Bateman.

  • by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Saturday February 15, 2014 @03:15PM (#46255489)

    The study comes as websites are increasingly weighing steps to rein in trollish behavior

    I'm just impressed that the summary correctly spelled "to rein in."

    Signed,
    A Grammar Troll. :)

  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday February 15, 2014 @03:16PM (#46255497) Homepage

    I'm a bit bothered by the use of Amazon's Mechanical Turk as a source of survey participants. That's by its nature a group of people with lots of free time and few marketable skills. That's a likely place to find trolls.

    Slashdot's moderation system seem to do a good job of preventing trolling. I just hope the Dice management doesn't break it, in search of higher "social engagement" or something.

    • Can I ask you what thoughts you have about the Beta?

    • That's a likely place to find trolls.

      So it's quite a good place to go when you want to find trolls then.

      Slashdot's moderation system seem to do a good job of preventing trolling.

      Hardly! It just masks the most obvious efforts at -1, where people that stuff can still see it. It doesn't prevent trolls at all.

  • Sometimes, some people just deserve trolling.

    • Yeah, I've been thinking about that sometimes. A healthy discussion kind of needs a smidge of trolling.
  • For a long time I wondered what led people to leave gratuitously mean comments on Internet forums and bait people into getting into arguments for the fun of it. I always imagined that the Internet, due to it's protection of anonymity, just brought out all the negative aspects personalities (described in the article) that on regular social occasions they would never have the courage to display. The sad thing is, how big the number people like that is.
  • A study on trolling asked if you troll and if you said yes... Wouldn't a simple yes/no question have been easier.
  • I think we need to go back to the beginning with this "study" and show why anyone slaving as an Amazon Turk would be representative of the larger population (of somewhere).

  • Perhaps having sadistic psychopathic narcissists trolling is the best solution to dealing with their illness. At least that way they're not torturing kittens and preening in front of mirrors while plotting to over throw the world. It might turn out that the Internet discussion forums are the best cure for this disease.

  • You'll also note that most of them post as "Anonymous Coward". People with a name, even one without much going for it, usually at least try to be reasonable.
  • And psychologists don't know Jack ship about people on the internet. Either.

  • Anything you don't like makes me a Troll, so lets label someone to make them evil.

    I have an alternative viewpoint: People who hit the troll button have their head up their arse.

    No test required.

    -Hack

  • Is posting a comment virulently defending an unpopular fringe point of view a troll? Doesn't it depend on whether the person posting it actually believes it or not? An active evangelical might make such posts thinking that they're helping people to be saved. How do you tell if such a post is really trolling or simply someone gullible enough to fall for bizarre arguments and think it's in your best interests to buy into them too?
    • Good point. In many ways a troll is someone impersonating an aggressive moron, however the motivation of the moron and troll are in direct opposition. The motivation of the troll is the anti-social bit that people object to the most, the motivation of the moron is the anti-logic bit that people laugh at the most.
  • http://www.flamewarriorsguide.... [flamewarriorsguide.com]

    These cartoons summarize the on-line world rather nicely. (My favourite is Bliss Ninny)

  • "Machiavellianism ... others)."
    I will take that as a compliment.

  • 1. A genuine troll who adds nothing to the topic.
    2. Anybody who posts negative comments about Israel, no matter how valid their points are.
    3. Anybody who looks at the global temperature graphs and concludes that actually, the temperature has not gone up for almost 2 decades.

  • More on this exciting development later.

  • Breaking news: Psychologists and Slate.com spotlight trolling by trolling Internet trolls. More at 11.
  • I'm an Internet troll, and I actually do have most of the diagnostic criteria for antisocial personality disorder. But... A long time ago, I realized that being mean to people was not a winning strategy. So I tend towards Kibological trolling; more emphasis on funny, less on mean. I don't want to get people mad or upset, because that's boring. I want to do things that are funny. I want people to laugh when they realize they've been trolled, not get mad. ... Unless, of course, they're the boring kind of Inte

  • I think that most of the trolls may actually be just really bored people, looking for a easy way out of their boredom, and thus they're not even trolls the whole time.

  • Since when did Machiavellianism come to be defined as a "willingness to manipulate others"? The traditional attribute of "The Prince" is that he manipulated other people for a purpose. Doing it simply for entertainment seems to be a far different thing. If I lied to you to get you to take your medicine, that could be Machiavellianism. If I lied to you because I was a huge dick and wanted to fuck with you, that would seem to be "Assholishianism".

  • I think there was a study not long ago that showed that men like breasts. Not kidding. This troll study appears to be along the same lines.

    Study something we already know the answer to and then find the obvious result.

    Thank you science... *yawn*

  • Slashdot NOT worth saving:

    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.

    Slashdot worth saving:

    Overall, the authors found that the relationship between sadism and avowed trolling was the strongest, and that indeed, sadists appear to troll because they find it pleasurable.

    The former is news for gorms; the later is news for nerds. We can't fix this protesting CSS.

  • What is the justification for labeling the personality trait as psychopathy? Both that ans sociopathy are characterized by a lack of remorse and empathy. The difference being (as I understand it) that psychopaths are considered to be dangerous to themselves and others. I'm not sure raising sh*t storms on various online sites for fun qualifies as 'dangerous'.

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