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Researchers from the University of British Columbia conducted studies about the pleasure and excitement sadists get from causing pain or displeasure, and the findings reveal that what they term "everyday sadism" is more common than we might think.
Psychological scientist Erin Buckels led the studies, which showed that people who were classed as sadists (based on specific measurements) gained pleasure from hurting others. She also found that they were willing to put in extra effort to make someone else suffer.
The findings were published in the journal Psychological Science.
Buckels and her colleagues previously did research on the "Dark Triad" of personality, which involves three traits: psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism. They say sadism is a "distinct aspect of personality" that combines with the others to form a "Dark Tetrad" of personality traits.
"Some find it hard to reconcile sadism with the concept of 'normal psychological functioning, but our findings show that sadistic tendencies among otherwise well-adjusted people must be acknowledged."
She says sadists "aren't necessarily serial killers or sexual deviants, but they gain some emotional benefit in causing or simply observing others' suffering."
For one of their studies, the team had 71 people participate in a study on "personality and tolerance for challenging jobs," which involved asking them to choose between several unpleasant chores:
Killing bugs involved a bug-crunching machine, which was essentially a coffee grinder that made a crunching sound. The researchers say this maximized the "gruesomeness of the task." Live pill bugs were contained in cups that displayed each of their names: Muffin, Ike and Tootsie.
Participants who chose to kill the bugs had to drop the bugs into the grinder, forcefully put down the cover and grind them to a pulp.
Those who have a fondness for bugs, however, can rest easy: there was a secret barrier that prevented the bugs from being ground up, so no bugs were harmed in the making of this study.
Out of the 71 participants, 26.8% chose to kill the bugs, 26.8% chose to help kill bugs, 33.8% chose to clean dirty toilets and 12.7% chose the pain task.
The participants who chose to kill bugs scored highest on the sadistic impulses scale, and the more sadistic the person was, the more likely he or she was to choose bug killing.
Buckels and her team notes that the results took into account scores on Dark Triad measures, fear of bugs and sensitivity to disgust.
Additionally, the participants with high sadism levels who killed bugs reported much greater pleasure from the task, compared with those who chose another task. What's more, their pleasure correlated with the number of bugs they killed.
This suggests sadistic behavior holds a reward value for those participants, say the researchers.
A second study took place, in which participants from the high "dark" personality trait scale blasted white noise at innocent opponents. The results revealed that only sadists chose to intensify these blasts when they realized the opponent would not fight back.
They were also the only ones willing to put in extra time and energy in order to blast the innocent opponent with the unpleasant noise.
The researchers conclude the study by writing:
"In both studies, sadism emerged as an independent predictor of behavior reflecting an appetite for cruelty. Together, these findings support the construct validity of everyday sadism and its incorporation into a new 'Dark Tetrad' of personality."
They hope their findings will make people more aware of sadism as it exists in everyday life and perhaps even resolve the idea that sadism only exists in sexual deviants and criminals.
The team is continuing to investigate sadism as it applies to online trolling behavior and enjoying cruelty in movies, video games and sports. Their findings could potentially affect research or policy on domestic abuse, bullying, animal abuse and military or police brutality.
"It is such situations that sadistic individuals may exploit for personal pleasure. Denying the dark side of personality will not help when managing people in these contexts."
Written by Marie Ellis
Copyright: Medical News Today
Not to be reproduced without the permission of Medical News Today.
Behavioral Confirmation of Everyday Sadism Erin E. Buckels, Daniel N. Jones, Delroy L. Paulhus, Psychological Science, published online 10 September 2013.
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Ellis, Marie. "Cruel behavior has reward value for 'everyday sadists'." Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 14 Sep. 2013. Web.
10 Dec. 2013. <http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/266095>
Ellis, M. (2013, September 14). "Cruel behavior has reward value for 'everyday sadists'." Medical News Today. Retrieved from
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