Surprised? Not sure anyone would be.
Nonetheless, the researchers found that trolls scored highly on a number of personality traits examined: Machiavellianism, psychopathy, narcissism, extraversion, disagreeableness and sadism.
Trolling is, according to the researchers (Buckels et al., 2014), the “practice of behaving in a deceptive, destructive, or disruptive manner in a social setting on the Internet with no apparent instrumental purpose.” People who troll like to post comments to websites or communities online that cause trouble, insult others, and cause general mayhem, just for the sheer pleasure of seeing what happens when they do so.
The researchers coined their own term for four of the personality variables they studied, which they call the Dark Tetrad of personality: Machiavellianism, psychopathy, narcissism, and sadism. Machiavellianism is a willingness to manipulate and deceive others, while psychopathy is not having any remorse or empathy for others. The researchers thought everyday sadism would be most conducive to trolling behavior online.
In two studies of over 1,215 participants, the researchers found that a number of personality traits were associated with a greater likelihood for trolling.
In the first study of 418 Mechanical Turk workers, the researchers found 5.6 percent of survey respondents enjoyed trolling. They scored significantly higher on traits of Machiavellianism, psychopathy, narcissism, extraversion and sadism. They also scored lower on agreeableness (meaning they were, from a personality standpoint, more disagreeable).
In the second study, the researchers found that both sadism and Machiavellianism were the best predictors of enjoyment of trolling behavior online.
Most of those participants came from the Amazon Mechanical Turk service, where participants were paid $0.50 for their participation in taking all of the surveys the researchers administered.1
In the final analysis of Study 2, we found clear evidence that sadists tend to troll because they enjoy it. When controlling for enjoyment, sadism’s impact on trolling was cut nearly in half; and the indirect effect of sadism through enjoyment was substantial, [and] significant […].
Problems with the study? Strangely, the researchers mentioned no limitations of their study. Other than the use of their own measures (which were listed as “in press” in the study), the researchers apparently never defined “trolling” to the participants in the study. It could mean different things to different people. And of course, the participants were either largely Mechanical Turk workers or Canadian college students. These results may not generalize to the population.
It’s good to know that trolls online have a personality type that fits with what most of us view them as being — sadistic, deceptive and in it for themselves. Trolls just want to have fun? Sure… but who doesn’t?
Buckelsa, EE, Trapnellb, PD, Paulhusc, DL (2014). Trolls just want to have fun. Personality and Individual Differences. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2014.01.016
- Mechanical Turk workers are not really representative of the American population as a whole (PDF), but that’s probably not relevant to the current study. [↩]