How To Tell If You're Facebook Friends With A Psychopath, According To Science

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There's a saying: When people show you who they are — believe them. With everyone living their lives online these days, people tend to reveal their true colors via their social media posts faster than they do IRL. And, new research reveals ways to spot Facebook friends who might be psychopaths so you can unfriend them ASAP. According to a study published in the January 2018 edition of the journal Computers in Human Behavior, Facebook users with "dark traits" have identifiable language characteristics. The study assessed a group of Russian Facebook users to determine whether or not there is a connection between dark personality traits and the tendency to engage in harmful behavior online, and the results are pretty interesting.

While some people regularly cull their Facebook friends list to contain only people they know IRL, many of us have "friends" on Facebook that we don't know very well, or don't know at all in the real world. According to the study, people who engage in cyberbullying and online trolling might possess "dark traits," which refers to personality traits known as the Dark Triad: Machiavellianism (cunning, scheming, and unscrupulous), narcissism, and psychopathy.

"Machiavellianism is characterized by the use of manipulative tactics in interpersonal behavior, emotional coldness and moral pragmatism; narcissism is characterized by grandiosity, sense of entitlement and superficial charm; and, finally, psychopathy implies callousness, disregard for others, impulsivity and thrill-seeking behavior," the study noted.

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In the movies and on TV, psychopaths are fairly easy to spot (American Horror Story anyone?), but in IRL, and online, it's a little more complicated than that. Computers in Human Behavior noted that another study that focused on exploring dark personality traits of Twitter users found that, "Individuals scoring high on psychopathy and Machiavellianism used more swear words, more verbal makers of anger, and fewer first person plurals and positive emotion words." Like that "friend" who is always ranting and starting arguments on other people's walls, and is totally unwilling to consider anyone else's point of view.

One method of spotting a psychopath on social media is something called Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count, which separates words into two types. Content words include nouns and verbs and are controlled by the conscious mind, while function words include pronouns, prepositions, articles, conjunctions and auxiliary words, and are controlled by the unconscious mind. Basically a psychopath's unconscious brain operates by using function words, which the person can't really control, which makes them even more dangerous.

According to Psychology Today, "Psychopaths and sociopaths fall under the diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder, which may stem from a variety of genetic and environmental factors," psychotherapist Amy Morin explained. So, if someone is already genetically predisposed to psychopathy, certain environmental factors — like early childhood trauma — could increase their chances of becoming a psychopath.

The Russian study zeroed in on three types of harmful online behavior: sending threats or insults, dissemination of personal information, and posting inflammatory messages or derogatory remarks. Men scored higher on psychopathy and Machiavellianism than women, and Newsweek reported that men are more likely to be psychopaths than women. However, the study published in Computers in Human Behavior found that while men are more likely to be psychopaths, there was no difference between men and women when it comes to Machiavellianism and narcissism.

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So, just how can you spot your psychopathic Facebook friends? The study revealed that those with psychopathic characteristics were most likely to post about basic needs, such as money and food, and about politics and authority-related issues. These topics are the ones that often result in a Facebook fight, which the study reported as being inline with a psychopath's tendency to engage in aggressive behaviors online and IRL. This is the person who is constantly using Facebook as a platform to express how everyone is against them, or who goes out of their way to insult you and tell you that you're wrong.

Those who were identified as Machiavellian tended to post less, and their social media posts were significantly shorter. "One possible interpretation is that the Machiavellian propensity for manipulating others and controlling one's public image leads users with this trait to disclose less about themselves and maintain a careful façade in online communication," the study reported. People who were identified as narcissists are those super annoying vague-bookers. You know they type. They post something that requires others to ask them for more information, which is a method for attracting attention, because it's all about them.

Of the three types in the Dark Triad, psychopaths are the most dangerous because they don't experience remorse, which is why they are more likely to engage in cyberbullying and online trolling. "They don't accept any responsibility for hurting other people's feelings," Morin explained. "Instead, they blame other people and deny responsibility."

Because psychopaths can't seem to help themselves, and they actually enjoy manipulating others, it might be easier to spot them on social media than IRL. Personally, I've had to get rid of a few of these people in the last year, though they keep trying to re-friend me because another trait of psychopaths is arrogance.

"Much like narcissists, they think the usual rules don't apply to them. They also tend to have grandiose ideas about their potential," Morin explained. "They believe they deserve to be the CEO, or they're convinced they're the best at everything they do." Hmm, sound like anyone you'e familiar with? When you come across a psychopath on Facebook, it might be best to quietly unfriend them because engaging with them, or taking their bait, just motivates them more.