Trolls on the Internet, Sadists in Real Life



Study finds internet trolling to be associated with sadistic qualities and driven by pleasure.

Comment boxes on the Internet have allowed people to more easily voice their opinions to the general public.  In turn, people can be exposed to a greater wealth of knowledge, information, and perspectives at the click of a button. However, anyone who spends time perusing comment boxes will know that they are not all friendly, informative, or educational. “Trolling” the Internet refers to engaging in a destructive manner with no clear purpose. Internet trolls might start arguments and fights that seem mean and emotionally harming with no informational value. Messages of “don’t feed the trolls” have become popular on the Internet.

Researchers Erin Buckels, Paul Trapnell, and Delroy Palhus, wondered if these Internet ‘trolls’ have something inherently in common. Do their personalities share something that most Internet users do not? To answer this question, the researchers conducted a study, published in this month’s issue of Personality and Individual Differences that surveyed people online about their commenting frequency, favored activities, and personality traits. The users’ levels of ‘dark’ personality traits such as narcissism, psychopathy, and sadistic personality were measured.

The study found that people who tended to engage in trolling had a much higher display of darker personality traits. Specifically, there was a strong correlation between internet trolling and sadism. To clarify, sadism refers to the pleasure of inflicting harm or pain on others. Narcissism, though associated with enjoyment for debate, was not associated with Internet trolling.  In a follow up study, it was determined that sadistic people troll the Internet because they enjoy it. With such high displays of sadism, it seems as though the Internet trolls are not only ‘trolling’ on the Internet, as many might have guessed, but are also likely to be ‘trolling’ in real life. When it comes to commenting on the Internet, don’t feed the trolls!


Buckles, E.E., Trapnell, P.D., & Paulhus, D.L. (2014): Trolls just want to have fun. Personality and Individual Differences.

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