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Psych study: “trolling correlated positively with sadism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism”

Psych study: “trolling correlated positively with sadism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism”

Canadian researchers: “Of all personality measures, sadism showed the most robust associations with trolling”

They come in all shapes, forms, manners of caps lock, and misspelled profanity, but one thing’s certain: no one likes an internet troll.

Internet trolls are the thorn in the side of most people who dare to express an opinion on the internet. Trolls are the people completely disinterested in honest debate, but love to hit and run. They comment on blog posts, news articles, Facebook posts and anywhere else the internet provides a forum for their psychosis to be displayed in all its demented glory.

Here are a few types of common blog trolls:

  • Regular Troll — This guy is openly 180-degrees opposed to the purpose and/or ideological orientation of the blog. Whatever you’re for, he’s against, and vice-versa….
  • False-Flag Troll — This guy pretends to be on your side, but he’s really not. Claiming to be a conservative, he inevitably advances messages that are anti-conservative. His purpose is to sow confusion, discord and demoralization.
  • Concern Troll — A subspecies of false-flag troll. The Obama campaign deployed a swarm of concern trolls in fall 2008. They were recognizable by the 3-point argument that went something like this: (1) I’m a committed conservative/lifelong Republican, but (2) I’m concernedabout [something the Republicans had said or done], and therefore (3) I’m thinking I might vote for Obama on Election Day….
  • Agent Provocateur Troll — Another false-flag subspecies, who aims to elicit unsavory or disreputable comments from other commenters, which can then be quoted to discredit the blog.

Then there are other internet trolls, like those who spend all their waking hours tweeting and emailing people.

Or, sending you an all caps lock laded tweet telling you to “WAKE UP SHEEPLE!!!”, showing up unsolicited to tell you just how wrong you are, in brutal terms but offering no reasons other than “because your dumb [sic]”, and in many cases, all out harassing you just because they have nothing better to do from their mother’s basement, internet trolls are an unfortunate byproduct of technological progress.  But I guess we can thank Al Gore’s invention of the internet for that.

Researchers in Canada decided to explore what types of people make up the majority of the internets trolls.

According to Psychology Today:

Canadian researchers decided to find out. They conducted two internet studies with over 1,200 people. They gave 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: narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadistic personality. 

“… 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!”

Here’s the abstract from the study itself (emphasis added):

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.

Most likely to troll? Vicarious sadists. Followed by, direct sadists, psychopaths, machiavellians, and narcissists, respectively.

Psychology today has some sage advice when it comes to dealing with internet trolls, “(1) These trolls are some truly messed up people and (2) it is your suffering that brings them pleasure, so the best thing you can do is ignore them.”

Ignore, I shall.

[Featured Image: Kevin Dooley under Creative Commons License)

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I had a website for 8-10 years once, on scientific skepticism, with an accompanying message board. We were inundated with trolls constantly, angry because we refused to believe in aliens, bigfoot, crop circles, name your silliness.

Outside of simply banning them, the most effective way to get rid of a troll is to refuse to react. Totally ignore them. Just like children acting out, when they don’t get a reaction, they canot feed.

The problem is that it is nearly impossible to get all your regular posters to ignore them. Somebody always seems to take the bait.

Another effective thing we tried was I posted a stock answer and asked all regulars to cut and paste it if they absolutely had to reply to a troll. It went something like, “You are absolutely right. Thank you for informing me.” When every troll comment gets the same answer, it gets pretty funny.

Another truism about trolls. When you own a website’s God Account, you can track trolls to other websites. What happens a large part of the time is that a troll will roll thru a blog like LI, leave a bunch of ‘nana nana f**k you’ posts, then run back to their favorite site where they tell their friends how they really tore those stupids over at LI a new one, showed ’em what’s what.

It’s very, very sad in a freaking hilarious sort of way.

    Henry Hawkins in reply to Henry Hawkins. | September 23, 2014 at 8:36 pm

    One other fun thing to do with trolls. Engage them in debate and cite all sorts of statistics and claims and stuff, all of it made up on the spot, of course. The fun is in knowing the troll will go look it up, see that you’re wrong on that.. and that!.. omg, on that too! … and get all excited about rushing back to the comments to show you up. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t dawn on them that they’ve been sent on a wild goose chase to give the internet world a break from their nonsense.

      This approach is commonly called the New York Times approach. The only problem is they actually believe the made up statistics and claims. Journalism at its finest by our classically trained professionals with the highest ethical standards and layers and layers of fact checkers and editors.


      Not A Member of Any Organized Political in reply to Henry Hawkins. | September 24, 2014 at 4:40 pm

      So….the moral of the story goes…

      “Do Not Feed the Trolls!”

      Too bad this blog software doesn’t have a “delete” function. That is an effective way to cut the “water” off to trolls, or should I say cut their feeding off….

    my take away from that was…HH had website that got trolled.
    gee what a surprise.

    HAHAHA kidding Henry 🙂

There’s a 5th troll out there – the NSA troll. The NSA troll notes EVERY COMMENT, and if it’s strongly anti-0bama, tries to goad the commenter into making additional [potentially illegal] comments [which is something a smart commenter won’t do].

Good evening, Utah! How’s the weather this fine fall night?

    platypus in reply to walls. | September 23, 2014 at 11:04 pm

    For some reason, you saying Utah made me think of the movie Broken Arrow. Lots of pullable quotes from that flick, which of course was situated in Utah.

Doug Wright Old Grouchy | September 23, 2014 at 10:45 pm

Another type is the bored federal agent who believes he might be the next James Bond, of the keyboard toting type. Their purpose to encourage you to go full rant and follow their lead into a kind of purgatory.

How these various trolls are dealt with can depend yet one approach is to ignore them, knowing they’ll become frustrated since one goal of a troll is to get their target audience fully riled up. Ignoring them can cause them to literally explode, mentally.

Of course, another good approach, IMHO, to to give’em a good solid argument hit back, telling’em then goodbye.

    good solid argument hit back, telling’em then goodbye.

    That’s just a cheap way to get the last word.

    An appropriate way to handle a troll you want to ignore is to do just that – ignore it. No sign-off, no witty riposte … those aren’t how you ignore a trollish boor, those are how you waste time and effort on someone who isn’t worth it.

    When it comes to sending off trolls, recall that a job not worth doing, is not worth doing well.

    A troll can be defined many ways, but they all come down to the same practical thing – a troll is someone who makes posts which are of insufficient quality to merit a response. Not even a smart-assed response.

    Some forumites learn to ignore posts from identified trolls; a useful skill, as a silly post unread is a post one will feel no urge to respond to. Some forum software includes an “ignore” function, which is cool but not really necessary.

My method is to simply call them out the first time. Just type, you’re a troll and I’m done with you. It works but what’s even better is that if you’ve erroneously picked on a regular who isn’t a troll, others will correct you.

Nobody stands up for a troll. Not even other trolls.

Sadists, you say? I believe it.

On encountering a troll, I usually comment: “troll alert” or “Don’t feed the trolls.”

On the rare occasion I comment back, I always note that I don’t usually feed trolls, but this one required a response/refutation/etc.

They almost never reply, react, respond.

Typically, they quit because they know you’re on to them. No fun – for them – once they’ve been “outed.”

There is another type of troll: The Down-Vote troll.
This is a person who skims through an entire comment section and clicks down every single comment that supports the post. The dead give away is when nearly every comment has a single negative vote and no reply. One of the more lazy and cowardly types of troll who doesn’t want to bother with all the typing but still wants leave a permanent mark.

    J Motes in reply to JohnC. | September 24, 2014 at 8:33 am

    Golly, JohnC! It’s like you’re talking about a certain someone who might, just might, be working this very post. When I see signs of his work, I tend to add an up-vote to every comment that was given a down-vote, just to counteract him.

    The down-votes pattern you detected is a fairly recent development on Legal Insurrection. I began to notice a change in the LI commenters’ community during the Zimmerman trial when Andrew Branca’s coverage was attracting a much larger readership to this site. Most of the nutsy-cuckoo critics have gone away, but it appears that at least one has continued to cling, bitterly, to a site whose readership he just does equal in intelligence, judgment, or courtesy.

    John you are half right but you forget that sometimes we gotta give the person a down vote… and besides if we know someone has deliberately given a down vote, the antidote is to give the post an up vote.

    NC Mountain Girl in reply to JohnC. | September 25, 2014 at 10:42 am

    Quite a few sites have eliminated the down vote precisely because it encourages trolls.

The study is rather funny, actually. Our guess is that the authors of the study were trolled by the participants.

Don’t forget the most insidious troll of all: commenters who factually disprove official Real American *beliefs*.

    Ragspierre in reply to Tex Detroit. | September 24, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    LOL…!!! Which I almost NEVER say.

    Gus/Tex Detroit is a self-admitted troll of the most pathetic type.

    I find using them as foils is very useful…and FUN!

    I also have a thick portfolio of printed comments by various trolls that I use to show the real mind of the Collective during election cycles. Very persuasive!

      Tex Detroit in reply to Ragspierre. | September 24, 2014 at 12:28 pm

      For example:

      Facts that challenge the Tea Collective’s assumptions and official correct-think as dictated by the ministry of truth = trolling.

        Ragspierre in reply to Tex Detroit. | September 24, 2014 at 12:34 pm

        Yes. “Facts” direct from the printing plants of Big Brother.

        That crap isn’t “trolling”, troll. It is just propaganda.

        What’s hilarious is that you think it is gospel, and just slurp it up.

        LOVE THAT…!!! See how useful you can be made to be…???

          Tex Detroit in reply to Ragspierre. | September 24, 2014 at 1:42 pm

          Haha, From the prince of opinion links.

          Can you refute the facts asserted therein or not, Clownselor?

          Do you have any evidence that the facts asserted therein are false, Clownselor?

          Ragspierre in reply to Ragspierre. | September 24, 2014 at 2:04 pm


          Yes, I CAN refute what you stupidly call “facts” that are…to anyone who can read…ESTIMATES.

          ESTIMATES based on “…filings and media reports”.

          ESTIMATES of a growth in pigs at the fascist trough.

          Yeah team…

I frequent a board for folks who legally own federally registered fully automatic weapons, their semiautomatic clones, and their accessories. We are very cognizant of the rules and regulations governing our interests.

Occasionally we get a new member with one or two posts who asks how to convert dad’s old shotgun to full auto. The response is always the same, “Awww, look. Someone just graduated from the academy at BATFE and wants to impress their training officer!”

We never hear from them again.

I like being in the 1% minority of any blog just to hear them scream about how oppressed THEY are.

Calling someone who disagrees with you a troll so they shut up and go away and so you don’t have to defend your opinions with an honest debate of facts is kinda like liberals calling someone a racist or sexist or other -ist to shut them up. If all you want is sycophants, go into politics. Good grief.

    Amazed: If all you want is sycophants, go into politics.

    To be fair, some blogs have specific purposes, such as partisan politics. If so, they should have a clear moderation policy in place. On the other hand, to claim they are an open forum, while accusing anyone who disagrees of being a troll, is hypocritical. Or trolling!

    Simply disagreeing with me on my site, does not an Internet troll make.

    I welcome comments, including comments that disagree with my point of view. If you disagree with me and can back your assertions up with facts, logic, and/or scholarly research (i.e. strongly supported hypotheses), I want your input into the discussion. Only by being challenged can we properly defend our positions. We might each walk away with new information and/or perspectives, but the worst that can happen is we agree to disagree.

    So no, simply disagreeing doesn’t make someone a troll.

    On the other hand, if someone comments on my site and informs me that everything I say is wrong, because I’m a [insert derogatory term(s)], and then tries to tell me in no uncertain terms what my motivations are (“you just want to…”) and what’s going on in my own head (“you just think that…”), and refuses to even look at my sources (“I don’t believe anything from HIM”) let alone provide their own (usually in the form of “you first”), THAT’s a troll.

“Regular Troll – This guy is openly 180-degrees opposed to the purpose and/or ideological orientation of the blog.”

What if the ideological orientation of the blog is *wrong*? Is it better off excommunicating (and now, labeling with psychological illness) those who disagree?

Kemberlee Kaye: Here are a few types of common blog trolls

Your definition does not match the study’s definition. In particular, “Regular Troll – This guy is openly 180-degrees opposed to the purpose and/or ideological orientation of the blog. Whatever you’re for, he’s against, and vice-versa….” That means you can’t equate the characteristics of what they consider to be trolls with what you consider to be trolls.

On an open forum, disagreement is not trolling.

    Ragspierre in reply to Zachriel. | September 24, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    People here regularly…and sometimes vigorously…disagree.

    Trolling is not disagreement. It is a pathology, and one can easily identify it when it is on display.

one thing I have noticed (I either own/run or administer a bunch of sites) is that very often bluntness (a total not caring what anyone thinks of you) is considered trolling.
the more sensitive and pussified the owner/author is the more likely the redefining bluntness as trolling happens in my experience.
don’t think theres really any way to measure/quantify that though so not sure if this would affect studies like this or not.

when I hit 40 (the very hour) I turned my mouth filter off. that was a wonderful thing for me, much less stressful. my family and friends noticed it within a few hours, not so wonderful for them.
you find out then who your real friends are, those that can take being called a damned dumba$$ and realize its bluntness and not malice stuck around.
those who got butthurt….hell I came into life not knowing them and can leave it the same way w/o bothering me.
but my point is many like to act hurt when someone is blunt and then consider it trolling when it isn’t. that same bluntness that hurts someones feelings one moment can just as easily boost their feelings the next.

    Many things can distract from discussion of the topic, including language, though most blogs are fairly lenient in this regard. You might want to check the moderation policy. However, it’s only trolling if distracting from the topic is the purpose of your interaction.

      Ragspierre in reply to Zachriel. | September 24, 2014 at 12:08 pm

      No. You are wrong. Trolling can be done for a number of purposes other than simply distracting from the topic.

      As well you know…!!!

      way to miss the point smart guy

      yes. This is the troll who deliberately posts off topic comments to divert the subject matter. There is a name for that particular troll.

      However, there are some people who will post off-topic and point out that they are off-topic because they are alerting to some information that might be relevant and is then taken up by the blog owner, and that person is not a troll.

I don’t mind commenters who disagree with the blog post; what I mind are the ones who won’t engage in discussion. They just drop in, throw (often nonsense) zingers and disappear. Someone who disagrees but is capable of rational discussion is not a troll.

I’m bookmarking this post for use at a couple of sites I go to which have honest-to-goodness hypocritical trolls. Thanks!

    Or sometimes, they throw nonsense that misses the point, and when someone responds with facts/logic, they reappear to call names and throw more nonsense that misses the point.

    This is happening with a few individuals on a thread, still going as I type this.

I try to be forgiving. Trolls are asexual, so there’s likely a frustration there.

BannedbytheGuardian | September 24, 2014 at 5:00 pm

BwahBwahBwah . Typical Canadian bland shite.

TrooperJohnSmith | September 26, 2014 at 12:50 pm

“….and then the researchers discovered 4Chan and had to throw out all their conclusions.”

I seriously doubt they went there! 😆