Study: Offline, Internet Trolls Are Machiavellian, Sadists, and Psychopaths

People who leave comments in online forums to deliberately provoke angry and emotional reactions from others are not much nicer in real life, according to a study published in the journal Identity and Personal Differences.

People who leave comments in online forums to deliberately provoke angry and emotional reactions from others are not much nicer in real life, according to a study published in the journal Identity and Personal Differences.


In two online studies, psychological researchers from the University of Manitoba surveyed the Internet commenting styles of 1,215 respondents and compared them to personality inventories which respondents also completed. Both studies found positive correlations between Internet trolling and the "Dark [Triad] of personality": sadism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism.

Of the three, sadism was the personality trait most strongly correlated with trolling, suggesting that nasty Internet comments are a manifestation of everyday sadistic personality traits. Meanwhile, respondents who enjoyed chatting and debating in online forums were not given to sadism in their offline lives. 

As Daniel Goleman explains in his Big Think interview, the human brain is designed for face-to-face interactions and we adjust what we say to the physical responses of the person in front of us. Online, however, we are more likely to let our unregulated emotions rage because we lack the appropriate social cues (please leave your comments below):

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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