What kind of people “fight”? The study found higher levels of psychopathy, sadism and narcissism

What kind of people “fight”?  The study found higher levels of psychopathy, sadism and narcissism

One such harm is “catfishing” – when someone creates or steals an identity to deceive and exploit others.

In a study conducted by myself and Cassandra Lauder at Federation University, we wanted to find out what psychological traits are common in people who engage in catfishing behavior. We examined the perpetration of catfishing behavior in nearly 700 adults.

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We found a group of psychological traits that are associated with catfishing – known as the “dark tetra” of personality. These include psychopathy, sadism, narcissism and Machiavellianism.

So what are these traits and how can you spot a potential romance scam?

What is catfishing again?

What differentiates catfishing from phishing and other online scams is the length of time the catfish tries to deceive and exploit its targets. This often involves forming long-term relationships—some reports say these relationships last more than a decade.

In many of these scams, the goal is often financial exploitation. According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), in 2019 Australians reported just under 4,000 romance scams costing more than A$28 million. In 2021, that number was just over $56 million.

However, not all catfish scams involve financial exploitation. In some cases, there appears to be no real reason why the victim-survivor has been psychologically exploited and manipulated—a form researchers have called social catfishing.

The experience of catfishing can cause significant psychological and financial damage to the victim-survivor.

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The “Dark Tetrad”

In our study, we recruited a sample of 664 participants (55.8% male, 40.3% female, 3.9% other/missing) via social media. Participants were asked to indicate how often they engage in a range of behaviors associated with catfishing. This included “organising online scams” and “providing inaccurate personal information online to attract friends or romantic partners”.

We also assessed participants on a wide range of personality traits often associated with antisocial behavior, known as the “dark tetra” of personality.

That was included

  • psychopathy (insensitivity, low empathy)
  • everyday sadism (enjoying harming others)
  • and Machiavellianism (strategic and calculating).
  • We found that people who engaged in cathartic behavior had higher levels of psychopathy, sadism, and narcissism. Sadism was a particularly strong predictor of catfishing behavior.

    We also found that men are more likely to fight than women.

    It is worth noting that the participants in this research filled out the questionnaire themselves, that is, the data is called “self-report” during the research. As we asked people if they engaged in socially undesirable behaviors such as interpersonal manipulation, exploitation, and deception, the key issue is that people may not be completely honest when they answer the survey. This can lead to bias in the data.

    We addressed this by measuring participants’ “social desirability”—the extent to which a person hides their true self in order to look good to others. We used this measure for all of our findings to reduce this potential bias.

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