Why Do People Cyberstalk Others? A Cyberpsychology and Personality Psychology Podcast Episode.
Updated: Apr 4
Cyberstalking is a type of stalking that occurs online and using technology, and as this is a psychology podcast, we have to question why people do this. In this useful psychology podcast episode, we investigate the gender, personality and other factors that are likely to impact cyberstalking behaviour. If you’re interested in how social psychology and clinical psychology intersects with cyberpsychology then you’re in for a treat.
Today’s episode has been sponsored by Personality Psychology and Individual Differences. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.
Introduction To Cyberstalking
One of the things that makes this issue so interesting is that everyone throws the word about like it's nothing. For example, I regularly hear people say how they “stalk” celebrities online and check in on their social media accounts once, twice or three times a day. This overuse of the term “stalking” isn’t exactly helpful because all forms of stalking can be very serious in the “right” circumstance, but is understandable. I am no different because I occasionally state I stalk celebrities and a politician or two online.
Although, the form of cyberstalking that is common is the following situation. When a man or woman (or to be honest any intimate partner) are asleep and when the man had fallen asleep, the woman checks the man’s phone if they know their password or have face ID access. Then the woman starts reading their messages and checking up on their boyfriends.
That is the form of cyberstalking that we’ll be focusing on in today’s episode because it’s common, and it’s been very well researched in a recent paper by Evita March et al. (2022). Since this paper gives us insight into why this happens and more.
Also, I know this might not sound like cyberstalking because at least, I imagine cyberstalking involves stalking people online, possibly hacking them and harassing the stalker’s target. Therefore, I understand how in comparison to online harassment and menacing online acts, “simply” checking a partner’s phone might be seen as relatively innocent and acceptable.
Especially, when we consider how this tends to involve checking in on a long-partner and investigating their commitment to the relationship, or checking out a potential short-term relationship to get information like their sexual promiscuity. Although, this matches cyberstalking behaviours in a sense because one of the aims of cyberstalking is to retain or gain a partner. As well as knowing relationship commitment and sexual promiscuity definitely helps achieve that aim.
Furthermore, it’s perfectly possible that a person’s motivation to monitor their partner online is related to their personality. Since the study we’ll look at in a moment does find cyberstalking implications for the Dark Tetrad. These are the personality traits of narcissism, psychopathy, sadism and machvavellism.
March et al. (2022)
The main study we’ll look at in this episode was done by March and her peers because they aimed to investigate the different methods people used to monitor or cyberstalk their imitate partner and what techniques were used to get this information. These methods were gathered from long-term and short-term partners, data about personality traits as defined in the Dark Tetrad classification were collected and mating goals whether the person wanted to gain or retain a mate. All that data was collected.
Moreover, the study measured cyberstalking with 21 items asking participants to rate whether or not they would engage in each type of behaviour by responding to yes or no questions, in 4 different contexts, long-term or short-term relationships and while pursuing the goal of either gaining or retaining a mate.
In other words, the participants had to think about how they would behave in each of these life circumstances. For example, how they would engage in these techniques if they were in a short-term relationship compared to long-term.
Then a factor analysis was run to classify the cyberstalking behaviours into three different types of cyberstalking. The researchers labelled these as duplicitous. This involved behaviours like using the location settings on a partner’s phone to see where they’ve been. Personally, I find that just creepy and flat out wrong.
The second classification was invasive. For example, partners would use invasive behaviours to get information from their partner, like checking the partner’s messages and phone history.
Then finally, there was passive cyberstalking behaviour involving checking the online status of a partner.
In my opinion, I think whenever we casually throw around the word “cyberstalking”. We definitely mean passive cyberstalking because scrolling through our favourite person’s social media account is very passive, and maybe we like or comment on a few things.
What Were The Results Of March Et Al. (2022)?
The findings of the study show that thankfully both men and women were more likely to passively cyberstalk their partner compared to using invasive or duplicitous methods. This makes sense because most people just want to see what their partner is up to online and whilst I suppose there is an argument that duplicitous methods of cyberstalking, like using the location app to monitor your partner’s movements, might be more beneficial. Since this allows you to get higher quality information, it is probably outside a lot of people’s comfort zones because I’m fairly sure that’s illegal.
Interestingly, the results show that women cyberstalk a lot more than men do. Due to women are a lot more likely to use invasive and passive forms of cyberstalking than men. As well as women engage more in invasive cyberstalking to retain a long-term partner and they use invasive cyberstalking to gain a short-term partner too.
And I think those results are really interesting. Especially, as whenever I think of cyberstalking I always imagine men doing and a lot of media and other representations of cyberstalking is that it is a male dominated task.
Yet one possible explanation for why women cyberstalk more than men can be found in Trivers (1972) because he argued that from an evolutionary perspective it makes sense. since if women made a mistake in choosing their sexual partner then this is potentially more costly for women than men. Due to women have to invest more in parenting compared to men and domestic violence happens more than women than men. Therefore, it is arguable that cyberstalking provides women with a low-risk strategy to avoid making these errors in their partner choice.
Personally, I think this is very understandable to some extent because I think in the UK and across the western world there have been a lot of high-profile murders of women on the news. Also, whilst I know that I am almost certainly tapping into media bias and the availability bias here, the research does show that women are more likely to get abused, assaulted and murdered by male partners so it makes sense that partner choice is more costly to women than men.
I can understand why cyberstalking is a strategy to help women get information but I still think there are some ethical and possibly legal questions about this strategy.
Moreover, something interesting that March and her peers did note was that it is strange that women reported using invasive cyberstalking to get a short-term partner. This is weird because invasive forms of cyberstalking offer require greater knowledge of a partner than would normally be available in a short-term relationship. For instance, in my mind, if I’m in a short-term relationship with a guy then I’m hardly going to give him access to my phone. That makes no sense to me, so that finding is a little strange.
How Cyberstalking Links To Personality Psychology?
To wrap up the results of the study, the research did find that personality impacts cyberstalking because people higher in sadism, narcissism, psychopathy and Machvavellism were related to higher levels of intimate partner cyberstalking. Although, when each form of cyberstalking was examined more closely, it was only psychopathy that related to duplicitous, invasive and passive forms of cyberstalking. As well as machvavellism was associated with passive and invasive cyberstalking but not duplicitous. Also, sadism, Machvavellism and narcissism didn’t impact invasive cyberstalking too.
Cyberpsychology and Personality Psychology Conclusion
To wrap up today’s episode, cyberstalking can be a very serious crime and problem for people who are harassed and menaced online. And whilst March et al. (2022) only looked at intimate partner cyberstalking, this is still an important area to learn about because I’m sure there’s some research out there on the possibly darker implications of cyberstalking in relationships. Or maybe that really is just for Hollywood and entertainment.
As you’re seen in this episode, gender and personality traits play a large role in cyberstalking and this study and others do raise massive questions about cyberstalking and whether it is good or not.
So please let me know your thoughts. Is the fact that errors in partner choice are more costly to women than men enough to justify cyberstalking?
I really hope you enjoyed today’s clinical psychology podcast episode.
If you want to learn more, please check out:
Personality Psychology and Individual Differences. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.
Have a great day.
Cyberpsychology and Personality Psychology References
March E, Szymczak P. Di Rago, M, Jonason, P. K. (2022). ‘Passive, invasive, and duplicitous: Three forms of intimate partner cyberstalking’ Personality and Individual Differences, 189.
Trivers, R. L. (1972). ‘Parental investment and sexual selection.’ In B. Campbell (Ed.), Sexual selection and the descent of man (pp. 1871–1971). Aldine.
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