Story at a glance
- Online hate is increasingly becoming common and psychologists are interested in the personality traits of hate comment posters.
- Researchers focused on hate comments directed toward Polish athletes by Polish online users.
- The study results suggest that the hate commenters score high in psychopathy.
It may not come as a surprise that people who would post hateful comments online display characteristics of psychopathy or other traits. But one group of researchers in Poland set out to show this in a study comparing people who don’t post hate comments to those who do. In a study published in Frontiers in Psychology, the researchers found that hate commenters scored high for psychopathy but not other traits that are associated with disruptive behavior.
The team recruited 94 people for the study, 46 of whom posted hating comments during the study period. Some examples of the hating comments quoted in the study were “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.” An example of a non-hating comment is “It’s alright, we keep our fingers crossed, next time s/he will do/be better!” And an example of a negative statement is: “Considering the moderately good results throughout this season, during Olympic Game s/he performed rather badly. I think s/he wasn’t sufficiently prepared to this tournament.”
One month after the Olympics ended, the researchers gave the Dark Triad questionnaire to participants. The Dark Triad is narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism. Narcissism is a personality disorder where there is a “persistent pattern of grandiosity, fantasies of unlimited power or importance, and the need for admiration or special treatment,” according to a paper published in The Journal of Behavioral Medicine. Psychopathy is defined as a “neuropsychiatric disorder marked by deficient emotional responses, lack of empathy, and poor behavioral controls, commonly resulting in persistent antisocial deviance and criminal behavior,” according to a paper in the journal Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience. Machiavellianism is a “personality trait characterized by interpersonal manipulation and associated with specific patterns of emotional and social cognition skills,” according to a paper in Frontiers in Psychology.
The Dark Triad questionnaire aims to score the participant on each of the subscales for the three personality traits. The researchers also gave them a questionnaire about satisfaction with life. The Dark Triad results showed that the strongest predictor for posting hating comments online in this study group was the psychopathy scale. The scale of envy was close to being a statistically significant predictor.
The study’s results support previous studies that show that negative online behaviors are associated with high levels of psychopathy. But, where past studies have found that cyber bullies, trolls and people who use hate speech also score high on all three traits in the Dark Triad, the participants posting hate comments in this study did not score high on narcissism and Machiavellianism. The researchers also found that gender was not a significant predictor in this study group, whereas previous studies have found that it was.
Although these results may not be generalizable, it does give some insight into how online behavior can be categorized. The authors write that this study is a first step toward “broadening our understanding who the online haters are, which, in turn, may help identifying the best strategies for psychological interventions for haters, and creating counter-hating strategies.”
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