In this month's issue of Personality and Individual Differences, a study was published that confirms what we all suspected: Internet trolls are horrible people. 

Let's start by getting our definitions straight: An Internet troll is someone who comes into a discussion and posts comments designed to upset or disrupt the conversation. Often, in fact, it seems like there is no real purpose behind their comments except to upset everyone else involved. Trolls will lie, exaggerate, and offend to get a response. 

What kind of person would do this? Some Canadian researchers decided to find out.

They conducted two online studies with over 1,200 people, giving personality tests to each subject along with a survey about their Internet commenting behavior. They were looking for evidence that linked trolling with the "Dark Tetrad" of personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism. 

They found that Dark Tetrad scores were highest among people who said trolling was their favorite Internet activity. To get an idea of how much more prevalent these traits were among Internet trolls, see this figure from the paper:

Look at how low the Dark Tetrad scores are for everyone except the trolls! Their scores for all four traits soar on the chart. The relationship between trolling and the Dark Tetrad is so significant that the authors write in their paper:

"... the associations between sadism and GAIT (Global Assessment of Internet Trolling) scores were so strong that it might be said that online trolls are prototypical everyday sadists." [emphasis added]

Trolls truly enjoy making you feel bad. To quote the authors once more (because this is a truly quotable article): "Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others. Sadists just want to have fun ... and the Internet is their playground!"

The next time you encounter a troll online, remember:

  1. These trolls are some truly difficult people.
  2. It is your suffering that brings them pleasure, so the best thing you can do is ignore them. 
     

References

Buckels, Erin E., Paul D. Trapnell, and Delroy L. Paulhus. "Trolls just want to have fun." Personality and Individual Differences67 (2014): 97-102.

Photo adapted from original by Kevin Dooley

Be sure to read the following responses to this post by our bloggers:

Are You an Internet Troll? is a reply by Jennifer Golbeck Ph.D.

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