Internet users who post hateful comments about other people tend to have psychopathic traits, according to a new study in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. In a surprising twist, however, researchers found no correlation between online vitriol and narcissism or Machiavellianism – the two other personality traits that, together with psychopathy, make up the so-called Dark Triad.
To be clear, online haters are a distinct species from Internet trolls, though both belong to the asshole family. The study authors describe haters as people who post comments expressing “negative, insulting attitudes” regarding the perceived inadequacies of others, “but not including constructive criticism.”
Trolls, meanwhile, have been identified in previous research projects as those who behave in a “deceptive, destructive, or disruptive manner in a social setting on the Internet with no apparent instrumental purpose.” Several studies have already identified strong correlations between trolling and all three Dark Triad attributes, as well as sadism.
In this latest study, researchers looked at Facebook comments relating to the poor performance of Polish athletes at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. Users who had posted opinions on this subject were invited to complete a series of questionnaires that are designed to reveal personality traits such as psychopathy, narcissism, Machiavellianism, envy, frustration, and life satisfaction.
A total of 94 Internet-users took part, 46 of whom had posted comments deemed hateful. Examples of hateful statements included “She discredits our country and does it for taxpayers’ money, give me my money back!,” and “Representing our country while being so ugly should be banned.”
After analyzing participants’ responses to the questionnaires, the study authors wrote that “high scores in Psychopathy subscale were significant predictors of posting hating comments online,” although none of the other traits could be used to reliably predict hateful online posting.
Participants who did not display psychopathic tendencies, meanwhile, tended to be more philosophical and measured in their comments, posting statements such as “It’s alright, we keep our fingers crossed, next time s/he will do be better!”
I'm sure we’ve all taken umbrage with underperforming Polish athletes at some point in our lives, but as this study shows, only a psychopath rants about it on Facebook.