Psychopaths tend to have this very annoying social media habit

No content is innocuous enough to escape internet hate completely. Baking tutorials, compilations of people passing the bar exam, and even two herpetologists soberly discussing the evolution of rain frogs are all susceptible to the very best of indecent words.  

A new study from the Journal Frontiers in Psychology attempts to locate the driving force behind the online rage. According to the data, psychopathy plays a major role (perhaps unsurprisingly).

“The main aim of the present study is to identify the psychological predictors of posting hate comments online. Based on the initial literature review, we decided to focus on the following traits: Dark Triad (i.e., Narcissism, Psychopathy, and Machiavellianism), level of experienced frustration, level of experienced envy, and satisfaction with life.”

The participating subjects were reviewed and approved by the Ethical Review Board of the Institute of Psychology at the University of Wrocław.

Biting Nails

The authors of the new paper derived their findings from online comments posted by Facebook users aimed at athletes who participated in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

Forty-six of the 94 users involved in the study submitted comments that could be reasonably defined as hateful; gems like “she discredits our country” and “representing our country while being so ugly should be banned.”.

Although nearly 50% of disparaging comments were posted by female respondents, elements of the dark triad of personality traits, narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy, were suspected to link the commonalities and differences of online haters compared to trolls and more generic forms of cyberbullying more substantively.

In this context, haters were distinguished as individuals who occasioned some sort of perceived constructive inducement when they allowed themselves to chastise players online.

The internet appeared to foster the frustration-aggression hypothesis first introduced by American psychologist Neal Miller back in 1941.

When people become frustrated, for any reason, they’re often tempted to exercise their frustration at the expense of others in the form of verbal or physical aggression.

Online, where ambiguity is so easily achieved, users may exact antagonistic behaviors through various mediums, including chat rooms, comment sections, direct messaging, etc.

“More recently, Breuer and Elson (2017) overviewed numerous empirical research and found evidence for the frustration-aggression link. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that if the frustration fosters aggressive behaviors, such occurrence may be even more pronounced in the online setup, as the internet offers various ways to express verbal aggression,” the authors continued. 

After follow up analysis, the results showed that high scores in the Psychopathy subscale were reliable predictors of posting hating comments online; while high scores on the Envy Scale were found to be only marginally significant. No meaningful correlation was established between online hate and narcissism or Machiavellianism. The correlates were certainly compelling, however, If we set anecdotal evidence aside, some relevant limitations become apparent.

While giving in to an impulse to target aggressive language at strangers might be indicative of some underlying psychological abnormality, this study was conducted on active members of the sports community, which is a demographic that has been independently linked to impassioned demonstrations. Moreover, the study window occurred during a uniquely charged time, as many Olympic game viewers burden the featured events with heavy themes like patriotism and cultural significance.

Still, the new study teases the potential for further research. With an election, health crisis and looming economic catastrophe in the balance, now might be a good time to reboot global etiquette.

“Considering a reported increase in online hating, predictions are that online hating behavior will become even more and more severe. Results of the present study are one of the first steps in 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,” the report concludes.