Fun Science Friday – “Trolls Just Wanna Have Fun”

I have to admit, I love this title, but cannot claim it as my own. It is the title of the research paper that forms the basis for today’s FSF, internet trolling.

They see me Trollin. Photo Credit: NineFiveZero

They see me Trollin.
Photo Credit: NineFiveZero

Anyone who has ever spent remotely anytime reading the comments section of pretty much anywhere on the internet has likely observed a Troll (why some of you reading may even have engaged in Troll-like behavior). While these Trolls do not physically hide under bridges and/or steal sheep, their actions parallel many of the annoyances of their fairy tale  counterparts.  As defined by wikipedia, an Internet Troll “is a person who sows discord on the Internet… with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.”

Thanks to Erin Buckels, from the University of Manitoba in Canada, and her team, we now have some insight into the psychology of Trolls.  Buckels and her colleagues attempted to determine if  people who engage in trolling are characterized by “Dark Tetrad” personality traits: Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others), narcissism (egotism and self-obsession), psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), and sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others).

Their study found, as I have always suspected, Internet Trolls are corrupted by the Dark Side.  There were significant correlations between “Dark Tetrad” traits and trolling, though it is important to note that correlation does not mean causation:

Photo Credit: Buckels et al. 2014

Photo Credit: Buckels et al. 2014

In their study only 5.6% of  respondents identified themselves as Internet Trolls. By contrast, 41.3% of respondents were “non-commenters,” meaning they generally did not engage (i.e. comment) online at all. So trolls are, as has often been suspected, a minority of online commenters, and an even smaller minority of the overall number of people on the Internet.

While Buckels and her team do not present a solution of how to deal with Internet Trolls, they do identify the personality traits common in Trolls. My suggestion, if you see a Troll, do not engage them; Trolls feed off attention.


Happy Fun Science Friday all, and while surfing the World Wide Web remain vigilant and remember:

Photo Credit: mememachine,

Photo Credit: mememachine,


You can read the full article by Buckels and her team in the journal of Personality and Individual Differences.

Props to Leah Segui for indirectly giving me the inspiration to write about internet trolling. Good luck with your presentation!