Are You Psychopathic, Narcissistic, Sadistic, an Internet Troll?

Authors

In this month’s issue of Personality and Individual Differences, a study was published (link is external) 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:

These trolls are some truly difficult people.
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.[1]

Internet troll – Short version
Defined by: Kasey & Hollis

An ugly critter (not necessarily a physical uglyness but more so a inner uglyness) who sits and generally makes things unpleasant by posting to a messege board just to get a reaction, most times a Negative reaction is desired, from other posters.

Examples:
One-shot trolls
One-shot troll messages are intended to be disruptive, and tend to be very obvious to ensure that they will receive annoyed replies.

Disruptive trolls:

Off topic messages: Those that are irrelevant to the focus of the forum.
Page widening: Filling up fields with large pictures or characters to make previous posts unreadable.
Offensive media: Annoying sound files or disturbing pictures in a message, or linking to shock sites that contain such media. Often these links are disguised as legitimate links. Inflammatory messages, including racist, sexist, classist or otherwise needlessly hateful comments
Opinionated statements: Posting messages expressing their own opinions as generally accepted facts without offering any proof or analysis.
Spoiling: Deliberately revealing the ending or an important part of movie, book, game etc.
Bumping an old discussion, or rehashing a highly controversial past topic, particularly in smaller online communities.
Deliberate and repeated misspelling of other people’s nicks in order to disturb or irritate them in a conversation.
Promising nonexistent pornography to people who post in the forum, producing an interminable flood of “please send” messages (especially common in the alt.sex Usenet hierarchy in the mid-1990s) [2]

The Psychology of a Psychopath

The Mayo Clinic describes psychopathy as a personality disorder where, the person “typically has no regard for right and wrong. They may often violate the law and the rights of others.” Often, psychopaths have little empathy, antisocial behavior and lack inhibitions.

1. Psychopathic Tendencies

Psychopathic researchers found that psychopaths often have these common traits:

Lack of empathy, guilt, conscience or remorse
Shallow experiences of feelings or emotions
Impulsivity and a weak ability to defer gratification and control behavior
Superficial charm and glibness
Irresponsibility and a failure to accept responsibility for their actions
A grandiose sense of their own worth.

2. The Warning Signs
Psychopaths are typically highly impulsive and highly emotional. They are at high risk of substance abuse and incarceration. According to Joseph Newman at the University of Wisconsin, “Criminal psychopaths are about three times more likely to commit violence than other offenders and about two-and-a-half times more likely to commit other antisocial acts such as lying and sexual exploitation.” They are very difficult to have relationships with because they lack social kindness and empathy. Researchers believe that psychopathy has roots in early childhood. Children who show an early lack of fear, indifference towards peers and appear callous in the face of emotion are at the greatest risk.

3. The Brain of a Psychopath
Researchers believe that psychopaths have different brain activity patterns, specifically less activity in the amygdala where fear is processed and in the orbital frontal cortex or regions where decision making happens. One study found that people with antisocial personality disorder (often linked with psychopathic behavior) have an average of 18% less volume in the brain’s frontal gyrus. In another study from the Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers compared 27 psychopaths to 32 non-psychopaths and found the psychopaths had less volume in their amygdala–where empathy, fear processing and emotional regulation happens. This study also found that psychopaths have less activity in the area of the brain that processes empathy.

This suggests that there is a relationship between how the brain functions and the behavior of a psychopath.

2. The Warning Signs
Psychopaths are typically highly impulsive and highly emotional. They are at high risk of substance abuse and incarceration. According to Joseph Newman at the University of Wisconsin, “Criminal psychopaths are about three times more likely to commit violence than other offenders and about two-and-a-half times more likely to commit other antisocial acts such as lying and sexual exploitation.” They are very difficult to have relationships with because they lack social kindness and empathy. Researchers believe that psychopathy has roots in early childhood. Children who show an early lack of fear, indifference towards peers and appear callous in the face of emotion are at the greatest risk.

3. The Brain of a Psychopath
Researchers believe that psychopaths have different brain activity patterns, specifically less activity in the amygdala where fear is processed and in the orbital frontal cortex or regions where decision making happens. One study found that people with antisocial personality disorder (often linked with psychopathic behavior) have an average of 18% less volume in the brain’s frontal gyrus. In another study from the Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers compared 27 psychopaths to 32 non-psychopaths and found the psychopaths had less volume in their amygdala–where empathy, fear processing and emotional regulation happens. This study also found that psychopaths have less activity in the area of the brain that processes empathy.

This suggests that there is a relationship between how the brain functions and the behavior of a psychopath.

5. Can Psychopaths be Cured?
There is no ‘cure’ for psychopaths, but the earlier psychopathic tendencies are spotted, the more help can be given. It is incredibly difficult to teach empathy, but loving relationships and therapy can help reengage healthy, social behaviors. The discussion on treating psychopaths is not that different from the conversation about lowering recidivism and helping criminal rehabilitation. Since researchers estimate that 25% of criminals in state facilities show psychopathic tendencies, we know that the treatment could be one in the same. One model that has had some success is called the Decompression Model. This was developed by staff at the Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center (MJTC) and is based on the fact that psychopaths don’t think about or respond to punishment the same way as non-psychopaths (due to brain differences). In this way, punishment doesn’t discourage bad behavior–in fact, criminal psychopaths are six times more likely than other criminals to commit new crimes following release from prison.

The Decompression Model is all about positive reinforcement. Whenever good behavior is spotted, staff members at the MJTC immediately offer some kind of reward. This is because even though psychopathic brains don’t respond to punishment, they do respond to rewards. This increases and reinforces learning a new behavior.

Results: “Over 300 subjects who were treated at MJTC were matched with similar subjects not treated at MJTC and followed over a 5 year period. 98% of the non-MJTC youth were arrested again within four years, while only 64% of MJTC youth were. This is a 34 percent reduction in recidivism!
MJTC youth were 50% less likely to commit a violent crime, and while non-MJTC youth killed 16 people after their release, MJTC youth didn’t commit a single homicide! Furthermore, detailed economic analysis revealed that “for every $10,000 spent at MJTC, the state of Wisconsin saved $70,000 by reducing the future costs of incarceration.”
6. The BIG Take-Away
Maybe there is someone in your life who you are thinking shows psychopathic tendencies. If so, this last study with MJTC criminal youth is crucial for you.

With psychopaths, punishments do not work.
Trying to give consequences, punish or shame for behavior will only make them worse–remember, their brain doesn’t respond to punishment and fear in the same way as ours. Positive reinforcement is the kindest and most effective thing you can do. Most importantly, I think this is a better way to interact in general. Always look for good behavior to reward instead of bad behavior to punish.

Always reward the good, and you will see more of it. [3]

Comments
If the analysis of psychologists suggests that Internet Trolls have the characteristics of a psychopath, the person is sicker than most of us could have ever imagined. He is no longer just a nuisance, but a possible threat to society. I believe therefore that Internet Moderators must loot at this problem with a more serious analysis.

So those Trolls who think they are clever by attempting to upset people on the internet by their disruptive practice may not simply be innocent provocateurs, but they could be very seriously sick people.

Reference

[1] Internet Trolls are Narcissists, Psychopaths,and sadists: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-online-secrets/201409/internet-trolls-are-narcissists-psychopaths-and-sadists
[2] Internet Troll: http://guineafowl.com/board/troll.html
[3] The Psychology of a Psychopath: http://www.scienceofpeople.com/2015/03/master-manipulators/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: