What happens to people's behavior when they express themselves online? Psychologists have identified the emotional intelligence that makes trolls annoying.
How are trolls born and how do they become so ready to attack? What happens to people's behavior when they express themselves online? Why are the tones so sarcastic and why is the courtesy totally lacking in so many comments, following an article or a sharing of content?
Internet trolls: a psychological study
The Internet brings out the worst in people that – when it reaches extreme levels – turns into trolling: that regrettable and impulsive habit of harming others online, without assessing the consequences.
In Australia, a group of researchers decided to find out which ones traits of "normal" people"(Social media users over the age of 18 who do not seem to be trolls) who could make them susceptible to becoming trolls. Using an online questionnaire, researchers from the School of Health and Psychology Sciences – at the Federation University of Mount Helen – tested 415 men and women according to a series of traits on personality, as well as on online behaviors that indicated a propensity to trolling.
Researchers were looking for particular features, including the social skills, psychopathy, sadism and two types of empathy: affective and cognitive.Having a high cognitive empathy simply means that one can understand the emotions of others. Having a high emotional empathy means that a person can experiment, internalize and respond to such emotions.
Psychopathy and cognitive empathy in trolls
Trolls in the study exceeded the average on two traits: psychopathy and cognitive empathy.
Thus, although trolls present a kind of empathy, combining with psychopathy makes them bad, according to what researchers have agreed.Psychopathy, which includes the lack of care for the feelings of others, was measured using a scale in which participants were asked to agree – or not agree – with a series of statements such as, for example, "retaliation should be rapid and bad".
High levels of cognitive empathy make some people very adept at recognizing what upsets someone else and knowing exactly when to provoke or to rage. Lack of affective empathy allows trolls not to experience or internalize the emotional experience of their victims.
"The results indicate that, against a high level of psychopathy, trolls use an empathic strategy that consists of predicting and recognizing the emotional suffering of their victims estranging from the experience of these negative emotions. The researchers added that, since the psychopathy associated with emotion and impulsivity, it is possible that "The creation of an online attack is a fundamental reason for the troll". They also found that the trolls probably have – high levels of sadism: or they nurture the will to hurt others.
The study will be published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences and does not offer advice on how to stop trolling behavior, but illustrates the reasons that push people to act this way online.
In previous research, people with psychopathic traits showed a similar imbalance in terms of empathy: a lack of affective empathy, but normal levels of cognitive empathy. This study linked these psychopathic traits to higher levels of cognitive empathy in correspondence with people who are more likely to tend.
Exploring the link between psychopathy, high cognitive empathy and trolling could help deepen our understanding of those types of personality that gravitate around that behavior, to help them and maybe be able to stop them.