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Study Finds Online Trolls Show Signs of Sadistic Psychopathy

by Brandon Russell | February 17, 2014February 17, 2014 8:00 pm PDT

trolls

A recent study conducted by Canadian researchers found that most Internet trolls showed signs of psychopathy, sadism and Machiavellian behavior. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Spending more than five minutes on YouTube, for example, which is among the Internet’s most popular sites, is one of the finest examples of terrible behavior. There, it’s not difficult to find people spouting offensive remarks, seemingly for the sole purpose of upsetting complete strangers.

The researchers conducted their survey—where else?—online, asking respondents questions like how much time they spend online, and where. Respondents were also given tests designed to measure against something psychologists refer to as “Dark Tetrad,” which is meant to calculate someone’s narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy and sadistic personality. Unsurprisingly, respondents considered to show hints of sadistic psychopathy revealed they enjoy upsetting other online strangers.

The study defines online trolling as “the practice of behaving in a deceptive, destructive, or disruptive manner in a social setting on the Internet with no apparent instrumental purpose.” Does that describe the majority of your online activity? If so, I’d recommend shutting your computer down, walking outside, and start enjoying your life.

“Trolls operate as agents of chaos on the Internet, exploiting ‘hot-button issues’ to make users appear overly emotional or foolish in some manner,” the study said.

Questions asked in the survey included whether or not respondents enjoyed physically hurting people, if they enjoyed making jokes at the expense of others, and if they enjoyed playing the villain role. The pool of respondents included psychology students in Canada and about 600 folks in the U.S. While Internet behavior can often be much different from offline behavior, the study suggests many online trolls definitely have some issues. Perhaps the anonymity and disconnect gives these “sadistic psychopaths” the platform to be who they really are.

The Internet can be a wonderful place for sharing messages and inspiration. But it’s also vile and particularly nasty in certain places. The most disconcerting thing, however, is that people do it just because. “Trolls are offensive for the sheer enjoyment of it,” the study said.

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Brandon Russell

Brandon Russell enjoys writing about technology and entertainment. When he's not watching Back to the Future, you can find him on a hike or watching...

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