Why Most Online Trolls Have Subclinical Sadism? Personality and Clinical Psychology Podcast Episode.


why most online trolls have subclinical sadism a clinical psychology and personality psychology podcast episode

A lot of people have experienced trolling behaviour from horrible people online. I have personally, especially when I had COVID-19 and some weridos believed I was lying about it and I was part of the global conspiracy. As much as I laughed about the nonsense of the trolling, it still made me even more careful online, and other people get trolling a lot worse. And my thoughts and feelings are firmly with those victims, but why do people troll others? Well in this brilliant clinical psychology episode, we investigate how sadism cause be a factor in trolling others?


This podcast 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 the Personality Psychology of Sadism, the Dark Triad and The Dark Tetrad

On the podcast we’ve covered the dark triad in lots of different ways throughout our growing backlist as the personality traits of psychopathy, narcissism and my favourite word machvavellism. All these traits share several characteristics in common, because people high in these traits all tend to be deceitful, vain, aggressive as well as callous.


However, in more recent times, some researchers have introduced the personality trait of sadism into this group. Creating a Dark Tetrad instead of Triad. Due to sadism refers to inflicting humiliation, cruelty, suffering, harm or pain onto others. Entirely for the sake of experiencing enjoyment and pleasure and dominating others.


In addition, people with subclinical sadism, which is sometimes referred to as everyday sadism, may express cruelty in apparently more socially acceptable ways. Which I have to admit sounds absolutely awful because surely cruelty is flat out wrong, but this does include examples like watching disturbing movies, playing pranks, playing violent video games and more.


But how could these people seek other ways to express their hostility?


For that answer we need to look at a meta-analysis by Thomas and Egan (2022).


Thomas and Egan (2022)

I know this podcast does mainly focus on implications, results and what it actually means for all of us. I know personally that is what I find more interesting compared to methodology, but I do like to keep the podcast varied.


Therefore, the meta-analysis used 50 studies in their analysis and these studies were cross-sectional in design, used a mixed-gender sample (except for nine of the studies) and they were all published between 2013 and 2020, so we know this meta-analysis uses modern research.

Resulting in a good temporal validity.


Overall, it gave the researchers a total research sample of 22,179 participants with most of the studies conducted in the United States and Europe. As well as very wide range of behaviours were measured both online and offline. For example, when it came to online sadism, antisocial dating behaviour, cyberbullying and online trolling behaviour and a lot more were measured.

And when it came to offline sadistic behaviour, aggressive humour, hazing and sexual aggression and more were all measured.


In terms of results, the researchers found there was a moderate effect size correlating sadism and offline aggression, and aggression online (this one was the larger of the two).

In addition, a strong effect size was found for the personality trait of aggression and sadism, an intermediate effect size was found for anger and proactive aggression. Which the authors of the paper noted, sadists “may also aggress against innocent others without warning.”


Sadism and Trolling Behaviour

Linking this back to the topic of the episode, the researchers found a strong association between trolling others online by disrupting them, upsetting people or harassing them, as well as other types of cyber-aggression.


Which has been supported by other studies including the 2014 study by Buckels et al. (2014) that outright stated that “online trolls are prototypical everyday sadists”.


Lastly, the meta-analysis found that everyday sadism is associated with a wide range of aggressive behaviours towards others. For example, sexual coercion, intimate partner violence, extremist or radicalised behaviour, sexual aggression and cyberstalking.


Clinical Psychology Conclusion

To wrap up everything, previous research shows us how high levels of sadism are associated with aggressive acts that are quite frankly awful, from torturing animals, to severe bullying, hazing as well as cyberbullying.


However, that is always clinical sadism to the best of my knowledge. Subclinical sadism is more prevalent and it is less likely to result in extremely aggressive behaviours like I described in the paragraph above.


Yet we mustn’t forget that even small amounts of something can result in aggressive actions because that is what this meta-analysis concludes. Even low levels of sadism are associated with violence. Therefore, if given the right context, many sadistic people will happen behave aggressively, and here is a quote taken from the review:


“a moderate relationship...between subclinical sadism and aggressive behavior, as defined by acts ranging from verbal to physical, and sexual aggression and violence.”


Meaning that this is something that will be interesting to look at in the future, because clearly just because something isn’t fully clinical, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an impact on our behaviour, and levels of aggression.


And just to quickly wrap up, in case you’re wondering why sadistic people troll others, Buckels et al. (2018) helps to provide some answers. For example, sadistic people derive pleasure from seeing others suffer, they tend to minimize the harm of their actions and they have a more positive reaction to harmful situations than other people.


I really hope you enjoyed today’s clinical psychology podcast episode.


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Clinical Psychology and Personality Psychology References:

Buckels, E. E., Trapnell, P. D., & Paulhus, D. L. (2014). Trolls just want to have fun. Personality and individual Differences, 67, 97-102.


Buckels, E. E., Trapnell, P. D., Andjelovic, T., & Paulhus, D. L. (2019). Internet trolling and everyday sadism: Parallel effects on pain perception and moral judgment. Journal of personality, 87(2), 328-340.


Thomas, L., & Egan, V. (2022). A systematic review and meta-analysis examining the relationship between everyday sadism and aggression: Can subclinical sadistic traits predict aggressive behaviour within the general population?. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 101750.


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