Study Finds Online Trolls Are Sadists and Psychopaths

Posted on February 15, 2014

CNN reports that Canadian researchers have determined that online trolls are more likely to show signs of sadism and psychopathy than non-trolling Internet users. The research was conducted by psychologists from the University of Manitoba, University of Winnipeg and University of British Columbia. The study, "Trolls just want to have fun," was published in the journal, Personality and Individual Differences.

Surveys were conducted in which respondents completed personality inventories and a survey of their Internet commenting styles. The researchers found strong positive associations emerged among online commenting frequency, trolling enjoyment, and troll identity. They also found that trolling correlated positively with sadism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. Sadism showed the strongest associations with trolling.

The researchers found that enjoyment of other online activities, such as chatting and debating, was unrelated to sadism. The researchers also write, "Thus cyber-trolling appears to be an Internet manifestation of everyday sadism."

A Mother Jones story has more details on these cyber trolls, or sadists trolling the Internet for lulz. The surveys found that only 5.6% enjoy trolling behavior. However, as anyone who has used YouTube, online forums or comments on articles and blog posts knows it doesn't take very many trolls to make online discussion annoying, and trolls also seem to be able to suck a few people into a conversation even if the majority of commenters ignore them.

Mother Jones also says the psychologists in the troll study created their own survey instrument, called Global Assessment of Internet Trolling (GAIT). Trolls agree with one or more of these statements: TipTap Lab interviewed Dr. Erin Buckels about the team's troll findings. Dr. Buckels says the most surprising findings of the study were the "large correlations between self-reported time spent commenting online and dark personality traits, like sadism and psychopathy."