Internet trolls possess narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy and schadenfreude, study finds

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The internet has created a group of people who post inflammatory, irrelevant or offensive comments online, and now a study has revealed what motivates someone to become a troll.

Researchers from Brigham Young University found those who share such content have the dark triad personality traits, (narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy) coupled with schadenfreude, a German word describing someone receiving pleasure from other people’s misfortunes.

Those with schadenfreude, according to the team, consider trolling to be a form of communication that enriches, rather than obstructs, online discussion.  

Pamela Brubaker, BYU public relations professor and co-author of the study, said in a statement: ‘People who exhibit those traits known as the dark triad are more likely to demonstrate trolling behaviors if they derive enjoyment from passively observing others suffer.

‘They engage in trolling at the expense of others.’  

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Researchers from Brigham Young University found those who share such content have the dark triad personality traits, (narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy)

Researchers from Brigham Young University found those who share such content have the dark triad personality traits, (narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy)

Burbaker and her colleagues examined the psychological predictors that motivate trolling behaviors, as well as perceptions of trolling among 438 Reddit users. 

‘Online trolls have been described as self-aggrandizing, individualistic, and unremorseful in their behavior,’ reads the study published in the journal of Social Media and Society.

‘Research suggests that trolls possess dark personality traits, including psychopathy, narcissism, sadism, and Machiavellianism.’

Machiavellianism is a personality trait that denotes cunningness, the ability to be manipulative, and a drive to use whatever means necessary to gain power.

They also posses schadenfreude, a German word describing someone receiving pleasure from other people's misfortunes. Those with schadenfreude, according to the team, consider trolling to be a form of communication that enriches rather than obstructs online discussion

They also posses schadenfreude, a German word describing someone receiving pleasure from other people’s misfortunes. Those with schadenfreude, according to the team, consider trolling to be a form of communication that enriches rather than obstructs online discussion

And signs of psychopathy is socially irresponsible behavior, along with disregarding or violating the rights of others.

The research found that people who get pleasure out of seeing other fail actually considering trolling an acceptable behavior.   

Women who participated in the survey viewed trolling as dysfunctional while men were more likely to view it as functional – the study does not break down how many men and women were in the study.

Co-author of the study and BYU communications professor Dr. Scott Church said: ‘This behavior may happen because it feels appropriate to the medium.

‘So, heavy users of the platform may feel like any and all trolling is ‘functional’ simply because it’s what people do when they go on Reddit.’

The team also notes that those who possess schadenfreude do not care about  their words come across to others in the online community, and they do not see trolling as a destructive behavior, but as a way of communication.

The team also notes that those who possess schadenfreude are not concerned with how their words or actions affect those on the other side of the screen

The team also notes that those who possess schadenfreude are not concerned with how their words or actions affect those on the other side of the screen

‘They are more concerned with enhancing their own online experience rather than creating a positive online experience for people who do not receive the same type of enjoyment or pleasure from such provocative discussions,’ said Brubaker.

The study, however, did not find a link between being outspoken online and trolling. 

‘Remember who you are when you go online,’ said Church. ‘It helps when we think of others online as humans, people with families and friends like you and me, people who feel deeply and sometimes suffer. When we forget their identities as actual people, seeing them instead as merely usernames or avatars, it becomes easier to engage in trolling.’

Brubaker suggests approaching online discourses with an open mind in order to understand various perspectives.

‘Digital media gives us the power to connect with people who have similar and different ideas, interests, and experiences from our own,’ she added.

‘As we connect with people online, we should strive to be more respectful of others and other points of view, even when another person’s perspective may not align with our own.

‘Each of us has the power to be an influence for good online. We can do this by exercising mutual respect. We can build others up and applaud the good online.’

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