A recent study indicates that internet trolling (messing with people for fun at their expense on the internet, basically) is strongly correlated with personality traits associated with the garden-variety sociopath; namely, the "Dark Tetrad" of Machiavellianism (a desire to deceive and manipulate others), narcissism, psychopathy (lack of conscience, empathy or remorse) and sadism (taking pleasure in hurting others. The study was conducted by Erin buckels of the University of Manitoba.
His own summary of his study is as follows:
In two online studies (total N = 1215), respondents completed personality inventories and a survey of their Internet commenting styles. Overall, strong positive associations emerged among online commenting frequency, trolling enjoyment, and troll identity, pointing to a common construct underlying the measures. Both studies revealed similar patterns of relations between trolling and the Dark Tetrad of personality: trolling correlated positively with sadism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism, using both enjoyment ratings and identity scores. Of all personality measures, sadism showed the most robust associations with trolling and, importantly, the relationship was specific to trolling behavior. Enjoyment of other online activities, such as chatting and debating, was unrelated to sadism. Thus cyber-trolling appears to be an Internet manifestation of everyday sadism.
Chris Mooney summarizes:
It is hard to overplay the results: The study found correlations, sometimes quite significant, between these traits and trolling behavior. What’s more, it also found a relationship between all Dark Tetrad traits (except for narcissism) and the overall time that an individual spent, per day, commenting on the Internet.
In the study, trolls were identified in a variety of ways. One was by simply asking survey participants what they “enjoyed doing most” when on online comment sites, offering five options: “debating issues that are important to you,” “chatting with others,” “making new friends,” “trolling others,” and “other"(Mooney, 2014).
Fortunately, the internet 'trolls' constituted only 5.6 of the respondents. The researchers, as Mooney notes, used a distinct psychological survey for trolls:
The researchers conducted multiple studies, using samples from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk but also of college students, to try to understand why the act of trolling seems to attract this type of personality. They even constructed their own survey instrument, which they dubbed the Global Assessment of Internet Trolling, or GAIT, containing the following items:
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.
The more beautiful and pure a thing is, the more satisfying it is to corrupt.
Yes, some people actually say they agree with such statements. And again, doing so was correlated with sadism in its various forms, with psychopathy, and with Machiavellianism. Overall, the authors found that the relationship between sadism and trolling was the strongest, and that indeed, sadists appear to troll because they find it pleasurable. “Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others,” they wrote. “Sadists just want to have fun ... and the Internet is their playground!”
The study comes as websites, particularly at major media outlets, are increasingly weighing steps to rein in trollish behavior. Last year Popular Science did away with its comments sections completely, citing research on the deleterious effects of trolling, and YouTube also took measures to rein in trolling (Mooney, 2014).
Erin E. Buckels, Paul D. Trapnellb, Delroy L. Paulhusc (2014). Trolls Just Want to Have Fun. Retrieved from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191886914000324
Mooney, Chris (2014). Internet Trolls Really Are Horrible People. Retrieved from: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/climate_desk/2014/02/in...