Why Do Internet Trolls Exist? Because They're Possibly Sadists, Exhibit "Dark Tetrad" Traits, Says Psych Study
It's not just your imagination. Internet trolls are more likely to be evil — or, at least, they're more often narcissistic, psychopathic, Machiavellian and/or sadistic than non-trolls, according to a University of Manitoba psychology study. The research paper, wonderfully titled Trolls Just Want To Have Fun , asked Web users what they most enjoyed doing online: "chatting with others;" "debating issues that are important to you;" "making new friends;" "trolling;" or "other."
The Manitoba study found a striking correlation between those who professed an open enjoyment of internet trolling, and people who seemed to express personality traits within the "Dark Tetrad:" in psychology, these are narcissism, psychopathy, Machiavellianism and sadism. When sadism isn't considered, those conjunction of traits are known as the "Dark Triad."
So what constitutes an Internet troll? Well, according to the study, people who "agreed" with some of the following statements:
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 griefing other players in multiplayer games.
Despite all this, the research did offer a positive takeaway. Only 5.6 percent of respondents identified trolling as their number-one source of Web enjoyment. And this has to be a source of relief for anyone who's ever waded into the depths of a comment thread and been taken aback at the State Of Our Times.
And those 5.6 percent of respondents? Well, there was a massive spike in how many of them indicated they possessed Dark Tetrad traits in their responses to other questions, compared to the other 94.4 percent of respondents.
The study's authors concluded that Web trolls exhibited the most indicators for sadism. And the authors drew a provocative, worrisome conclusion: "It might be said that online trolls are prototypical everyday sadists."
And as far as efforts to clean up trolling, either by moderating or diabling comments, the authors weren't sure it would provide much relief.
Because the behaviors are intrinsically motivating for sadists, comment moderators will likely have a difficult time curbing trolling with punishments (e.g., banning users). 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.
So, on one hand, there's no stopping the Internet trolls. On the other hand, comment boards only represent a tiny fraction of humans.
Swings and roundabouts?