The Psychology of Trolling
By Bryan Caplan
Last week on Facebook, I asked: “Trolls: bored or malevolent?” Today I discovered some relevant research. According to Buckels, Trapnell, and Paulhus, “Trolls Just Want to Have Fun” (Personality and Individual Differences, 2014) “malevolent” is the main answer. Indeed, it’s unclear why the article isn’t called, “Trolls Just Want to Hurt People.”
BTP combines questions about internet usage with a range of control variables, plus standard measures of the so-called “Dark Tetrad” – the personality traits of psychopathy, narcissism, Machiavellianism, and sadism. What they find:
A total of 23.8% of participants
expressed a preference for debating issues, 21.3% preferred chatting,
2.1% said they especially enjoy making friends, 5.6% reported enjoying
trolling other users, and 5.8% specified another activity. The remaining
41.3% of participants were non-commenters. Because of low endorsement
rates of the “making friends” option, we combined that category with the “other” category in the following analyses.
A multivariate analysis on the Dark Tetrad revealed a significant effect of activity preference: Wilks’ λ = 0.97, F(20, 1646.00) = 1.65, p = .03. Inspection of the pattern depicted in Fig. 1
confirmed that, as expected, the Dark Tetrad scores were highest among
those who selected trolling as the most enjoyable activity.
That Figure 1:
…Dark Tetrad associations were largely due to overlap with sadism. When
their unique contributions were assessed in a multiple regression, only
sadism predicted trolling on both measures (trolling enjoyment and GAIT
scores). In contrast, when controlling for sadism and the other Dark
Tetrad measures, narcissism was actually negatively related to trolling
Please control your Dark Tetrad in the comments.