What causes a person to attack other people on social media? Why do some people hurt others as a “hobby”? How does the internet become the perfect platform for negative and malicious people?
There are those who know their comments are aggressive and potentially offensive, but they write them anyway because they enjoy it. A research team from the School of Health and Life Sciences at Federation University in Australia conducted a study to analyze the personality traits of this type of internet user. Today we know them as social media trolls.
The researchers looked for certain traits and social skills in men and women who acted in this way. They found that the trolls in the study scored significantly better than the average on two key personality traits, namely psychopathy and cognitive empathy. In this article, let’s see what these traits tell us about trolls.
Psychopathy: What Does This Trait Tell Us About Trolls?
Psychopathy is an antisocial personality disorder. Nowadays this term is no longer very common in the clinic and it is more commonly spoken of as sociopathy.
The origin of this personality disorder is not entirely clear. There seems to be a genetic component that may or may not manifest itself depending on how much affection an individual receives as a child. Experts also consider the hypothesis that the cause could be found in damage to the frontal lobe due to malformation, disease, or brain injury.
The psychologist Dr. Robert Hare has been researching psychopathy, which affects men and women, but is statistically more common in men for over three decades. Hare has come to the conclusion that people with this disorder have some things in common:
- Psychopaths get bored easily, need constant stimulation, and cannot set long-term goals.
- They are manipulative and need to feel that they can exercise power and control over other people.
- Psychopaths are prone to narcissistic traits and self-esteem.
- They also have serious impulse control problems and often react with anger and anger. Individuals with this disorder therefore have difficulty adjusting to social and moral norms.
- On the outside, however, they seem charming and well-adjusted towards other people.
- Psychopaths enjoy causing pain to others. So you might think that psychopaths have no empathy, but that’s not entirely true.
The dark side of empathy
Both emotional empathy and cognitive empathy are cognitive processes. However, there are significant differences between them and they involve activating different areas of the brain.
Today we have psychometric tests with which we can measure the specific type of empathy, for example the BES (Basic Empathy Scale). These tests evaluate the type of empathy and the degree of empathy in a test person.
Emotional empathy is further divided into two categories:
- Parallel empathy : the ability to recognize how someone else is feeling and your own experience of the same emotions
- Reactive : Ability to react to other people’s emotions as if they were affected
Both types of empathy involve the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain. You can think of this type of empathy as “warm” empathy. Unsurprisingly, social media trolls completely lack that kind of empathy.
But there is another kind of “cold” empathy that is less common and far less known. This is called cognitive empathy, and social media trolls have high levels of cognitive empathy. It describes the ability to know what another is feeling without adding an emotional component to it.
In other words, people with high cognitive empathy can recognize another person’s suffering but cannot feel it. Thanks to this type of empathy, social media trolls can actually predict and identify their victim’s emotional suffering. They use their knowledge to cause the greatest possible harm. Cognitive empathy affects two areas of the brain: the prefrontal cortex and the posterior parietal cortex. You are both involved in reasoning and decision making.
A ticking time bomb
If a person possesses both qualities, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have to become a troll. What we do know for sure is that social media trolls are toxic. They want to poison others with their words and protect themselves in the anonymity of the Internet.
Similar studies found that some topics are particularly attractive to social media trolls. They often don’t even read through the comments of their “readers” or simply skim them and reinterpret them to suit their subjects.
There are no studies on how to stop trolls, but ignoring their attacks seems like the best way to stop giving them more power.