Are Online Comment Trolls Actually 'Psychopathic Sadists'?

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Ah, internet trolls, those aggressive commentators who sow discord, start arguments and generally try and make as many people as possible feel terrible through ugly and often off-topic comments.

If they seem like psychopathic sadists that's because, as a new study published this week in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences suggests, they probably are.

Related: Social Media Is Getting Nasty. How Can You Rise Above It?

Survey respondents were asked about their online behavior, including how much time they spend online and whether or not they frequently leave comments on news websites. Commenters who said that they most enjoyed using the internet for trolling (as opposed to other, sunnier options like "chatting with others," or "debating issues that are important to you") displayed personalities strongly linked to sadism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism. The connection between trolling and sadistic behavior was particularly robust, and strong enough for the authors to conclude that "online trolls are prototypical everyday sadists."

Pretty dramatic, eh?

The more time a person spent online, the study found, the more likely he or she was to display sadistic characteristics. Of course, not all commentators are trolls. Only 5.6 percent of respondents were identified as trolls, while 44.3 percent were identified as "non-commenters," meaning that trolls account for a minority of online commentators.

In all, the study confirms what feels obvious: trolls do what they do because they enjoy it. "Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others," the study notes. "Sadists just want to have fun … and the Internet is their playground!"

Related: How to Handle Negative Online Reviews

 

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