One of the dark sides of public social media profiles is that you’re at risk of attracting the attention of unpleasant people. When people do this deliberately, behind a field of anonymity, it’s called internet trolling.
According to a new study published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour, men are more likely to be internet trolls than women because they show higher levels of narcissism.
In the study, researchers from Goldsmiths and Brunel universities analysed survey results of 570 participants. They were asked to rate themselves on a 13-point narcissistic personality scale, then rated statements about themselves, relationships, and Facebook use, such as “my close relationships are an important reflection of who I am,” and “how far would you agree that you use the platform antisocially, to ‘show off,’ ‘be mean,’ or ‘badmouth people.'”
They found that overall, men are more motivated to use Facebook antisocially, and women were more likely to use it prosocially, to feel more connected to people and have more of a sense of belonging.
This could be explained, the study concluded, at least in part by the fact narcissism is a lot more common in men than women.
“Sex differences in Facebook use may be a further reflection of the pervasiveness of gender stereotypes in the behaviours of men and women,” the authors wrote.
“In terms of greater narcissism, one explanation may be that as a result of stereotypes, characteristics such as competitiveness, assertiveness, need for achievement and dominance, tend to be encouraged in the socialisation of men and punished in women.”
Narcissists are people who are excessively self-interested and callous. Being a narcissist is more than having an unhealthy obsession with yourself; they have no concern for other people, to the extent that they resent anybody and anything that doesn’t directly involve them.
Trolling is a way for narcissists to let out the unpleasant sides of their personality.
Being offensive and mean to strangers online gives narcissists the ability to let out the unpleasant sides of their personality — such as a disdain for humanity, and need to be better than everyone else.
Nelli Ferenczi, lead author of the study and teaching fellow in the department of psychology at Goldsmiths, said there has been some evidence indicating narcissism has been on the rise for the last three decades, but there is also conflicting research that suggests there is no real difference between millennials and previous generations.
“Indeed, there is limited evidence that social media is responsible for the increase in narcissism,” Ferenczi told Business Insider. “Instead, it is more likely that social media is a novel outlet for people with narcissistic tendencies. Trolling is one example of a novel behaviour that is reliant on social media.”
The researchers concluded that trolling behaviour could potentially be decreased by encouraging people to use Facebook in a more “socially constructive and harmonious way.”
“This will help meet the fundamental need for belonging and the maintenance of relationships while making Facebook a safer place for all its users,” they wrote.
As the surveys were self-reported, in future research the team want to help eliminate bias by involving the independent coding of Facebook profiles. Also, they recommend that a more diverse sample is considered, given the higher levels of narcissism found in individualistic societies — cultures which are oriented around people being independent instead of identifying with a group mentality — such as the US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand.
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