Sadism: A New Addition to the Dark Triad?

Nelson

Recently, I was informed by Jayman (who needs a new computer btw, if you have money burning a hole in your pocket…) that new research is being done on the trait of sadism. I’ve finally gotten around to reading the full article (abstract here and a review from sott.net here), and I have to say it looks very interesting. As usual, the new development is taking place outside the box known as the Big Five model. Anyway, here is a little something on that article and the subject of sadism in general,

History

Most people think of sadism as something sexual and of the sadist as a disturbed person, likely to be a sex offender. This idea was spawned by German psychiatrist von Krafft-Ebing who wrote about it in his influential book Psychopathia Sexualis. As the title implies, Krafft-Ebing viewed sadism as sexual in nature and as the complement to masochism. This ying-yang idea was then adopted by the no less influential psychiatrist Sigmund Freud and was spread to a wider public through books and films. And so sadism became kinky and weird. The sexual sadist in the form of the serial killer has become an iconic figure in pop culture. There have been an endless amount of books and films made about this modern villain. Even here in quiet Sweden, the sexually sadistic serial killer is “celebrated” in movies and mystery novels, despite the fact that there is not a single account of such an individual here. I think this says something about how the sexual aspect of sadism became so blown out of proportion – it was simply a titillating idea and people fell for it.

Reality and Reality

This is not to say that sadomasochism doesn’t exist. Most sexual relationships probably have an element of S&M. According to Wikipedia, one German survey showed 69 percent of female respondents engaged in fantasies of that kind. So it’s fairly normal. But, more importantly, sadistic behavior is not confined to a sexual context but can be found in lots of everyday situations. Take reality TV for instance. Numerous of these shows end with an ostracization ritual in which one contestant is singled out and dismissed. Or the talent shows in which crappy performances aren’t weeded out before the show begins but highlighted for amusement. It doesn’t get any clearer than this,

And it’s equally clear that there is no sexual arousal involved here (if it was for you, please consult your doctor). These shows are extraordinarily popular and give an indication of just how common mundane, nonsexual sadism really is. And yet we know very little about this type of sadism. Which brings me to the research,

The First Study: Killing Bugs

The two studies in question were conducted by psychologists Erin Buckels and Delroy Paulhus from the University of British Columbia, and Daniel Jones from the University of Texas at El Paso. In the first study they had the participants (students) take questionnaires measuring sadism along with a measure of the Dark Triad traits (psychopathy, narcissism, machiavellism) and the Disgust Sensitivity Scale developed by psychologist Jonathan Haidt. Then participants were allowed to choose to perform one of four tasks: you could choose to clean toilets, do some unspecified chore with your hands submerged in ice-water or you could kill bugs or assist in killing bugs without actually doing the killing. And finally, they inquired how the participants felt after the experiment was over.

As expected they found that people who measured high on sadism also chose to kill bugs to a greater extent. They also found that sadism was not just a combination of Dark Triad traits but something that uniquely predict the participant’s choices when the Dark Triad was controlled for. Also, the dark traits did not predict choice when sadism was controlled for. Sadism only correlated slightly to moderately with these traits and it was unrelated to disgust sensitivity. While this is a small study of only 71 participants, it indicates that this nonsexual sadism is a unique trait and that we for this reason the Dark Triad should be called a tetrad instead.

The Second Study: Hurting Innocent People

As before participants were administered a self-report measure of sadism along with a Dark Triad test, but unlike the previous study Bruckels and colleagues now included a Big Five and an empathy measure. Participants then got to play a game in which you simply press a button first to win over your opponent who is supposedly located in a different room but in reality doesn’t exist. If you win you may blast your opponent with white noise. The game is rigged so that everybody loses the first round and the alleged opponent never blasts any noise (thus making him innocent). They also added a variant in which participants could only blast their opponent if they completed a simple but boring task. The intensity and duration (chosen by the participants) of the blast was combined to a measure of aggression.

Again, sadism predicted the expected behavior, this time that of blasting your non-aggressive opponent, when the Dark Triad was controlled for. But unlike in the previous study, psychopathy emerged as an independent predictor whereas narcissism and machiavellism did not. When they added the condition that you had to perform a boring task to blast your opponent only sadism remained as a unique predictor. They summarize these findings as,

 Together, these results suggest that sadists possess an intrinsic appetitive motivation to inflict suffering on innocent others—a motivation that is absent in other dark personalities. Inflicting suffering on the weak is so rewarding for sadists that they will aggress even at a personal cost.

Some other correlation were pretty much what you’d expect: sadism was moderately correlated to dark traits, -0.56 to empathic concern, -0.46 to agreeableness and, perhaps surprising to some, -0.28 to conscientiousness.

Conclusion and Reflections

Although both these studies are small, they strongly suggest that there is a new kid on the block, a relative of the other dark traits but at the same time clearly independent of them. This may come as a surprise to anyone who has read about or come into contact with psychopaths, since they display this trait so clearly. However, a psychopath in the clinical sense is someone who is at the extreme end of this trait. That person would have to be compared to an equally extreme sadist. Then there is the fact that a psychopath often engages in violence. His sadism then becomes more salient than someone who is obsessed with crime literature or torture porn which even people close to him or her may know little of.

Another interesting finding is in regard to politics. Disgust sensitivity is a trait linked to conservatism as well as a negative attitude towards people of other races and homosexuals. It’s very easy to make the leap from that to the assumption that conservatives are sadists, as many liberals believe. But this research found disgust and sadism to be completely unrelated. And conscientiousness, a trait also linked to conservatism, showed a modestly negative correlation to sadism. Sure, it’s early days yet but so far so bad for that theory. My personal guess is that sadists, like most people who score high on the dark traits, are disinterested in politics. They all lack empathy and politics is caring about people, in different ways depending on your viewpoint.

Next question would be why there is such a thing as sadism. As with personality in general, I think we need to view it from an evolutionary perspective to answer that; look for how it may be adaptive, what problems it solves. Just off the top of my head, I’m guessing this has something to do with social hierarchy. Sadism is about putting people down, and that’s sometimes necessary to maintain the hierarchy. As much as you may dislike Nigel Cowell in the clip above, he’s not only put that poor contestant down, but he also putting him in his place. The reason that guy thinks he is a great singer is because no one has had the heart to tell him the truth. So maybe the gene variants for sadism persist because a few sadists in a group provide realistic and meritocratic hierarchy without losing much cohesion. You have a Nigel who tells him that he sucks and then the rest can pat him on the shoulder and say, “hey, maybe you’re good at something else.”

22 Responses to Sadism: A New Addition to the Dark Triad?

  1. Sisyphean says:

    It’s fascinating that the more we look the more dimensions of personality we find. I wonder if it may in part simply be the fact that we as a species have been breeding so grossly in the recent past. Every little oddity can now be expressed somewhere. I’m a good example, I was a cesarean section birth who would have died later from pneumonia, and after that likely would have died from one of the many ear and sinus infections however modern science kept me alive at every turn. Now I live on, artist and non conformist that I am, a blessing and a curse and not alone, no. Many more like me, whole cities filled with other me’s with surprisingly similar medically labored histories and contrarian desires.

    • Staffan says:

      Partly it’s a matter of the crazy thing called psychiatry that has been pathologizing and colonizing the field of personality. Things like psychopathy and sadism are now returning home, so to say, leaving psychiatrist with the tricky question of how a dimensional personality trait even at the extreme end can be any kind of pathology.

      But yes, everything survives these days; it even breeds, people with Asperger are having kids which was almost unheard of just a few decades ago. But this could also be an evolutionary trend. We compete with ideas and unlike what some claim having ideas can’t be taught, it’s in your DNA. I’m thinking the pathological altruism of Northwesterners gave them an edge because it meant they tolerated new ideas as well. Sadly, this tolerance is now their downfall. Or maybe their altruism will breed some geniuses that will fix things in a way that I wouldn’t think of. Let’s hope so : )

  2. JayMan says:

    Great work, and thanks! ;)

    Tweeted!

    Of course, this is preliminary, because this is based on a standard WEIRD sample, but we gotta start somewhere.

    I’m waiting to see what else we can discover.

    • Staffan says:

      Thanks and you’re welcome,

      Yep, it’s early days and it might not be an independent factor, although I have a strong feeling it is. It may look different outside the WEIRD zone, but that would be interesting in itself. It’s possible that dark traits thrive in this region because of its naivety.

      Update: The second study acually has 60.6 percent East Asian participants. Judging by the universities (U of Texas and British Columbia), I’m guessing they are Americans or Canadians of Asian (most likely Chinese) origin. So at least not 100 percent WEIRD.

  3. Gottlieb says:

    Sadistic people who enjoy inflicting pain on others, probably can also enjoy pain. Would like to share something that they like to others. An act of affection (Lol) but can ser.I have my doubts que people with sadistic tendencies are not interested in politics, as I see many of Them Within itself and of great relevance position.
    Sadists must have high scores for novelty seeking and openness to experience. And I think especially those who are within the larger spectrum of sadism, but are not, classic sadistic. In the end, the term novelty seeking may sound similar to free will. If you have the genes that predispose you to search by feeling and experiences that had not had before in your life, then there is technically the” novelty seeking” or the” openness to experience”. Are verbal remnants of the era when nurturian science dominated almost hegemonic debate.

    I have several dark triad traits and believe that some slight tendency to sadism there , but I definitely do not feel able to victimize defenseless beings as animals , from the moment they offer no remote threat. But the fact of having a significant self consciousness about what I am and my deep sense of divergence relative to my peers , I believe it is in some confluence in which various traits of so-called mental disorders mix and mingle and abstractly find me near the dark triad , more because of my experiences and perceptions about the incredible failure of so-called normal people , think of the basics, ie the appalling anti -intellectual environment where ‘m awake what’s worst in me .
    A likely explanation for the fact consider myself completely incapable of doing harm to animals is because they are not human , that they in fact are really disappointing , and this is not a personal account of probable experiences you may have had , is an analysis of the march of humanity this century and in relation to all other times .
    I’m so averse to bigotry, lies and irrational behaviors, which my reaction makes me question my own self perception of my character. I mean, I’m in an environment where the ability, social functioning full to rise in social status, would be completely out of hand.
    In the end, the pseudo-Narcissism is a trait that is not only present among sociopaths, psychopaths and borderlines, but also autistic. I call pseudo-narcissism because narcissism is based on a caricatured interpretation about yourself, while for a sociopath or for a median aspie, define themselves as smarter than their peers” normal” is only an observation trivial of the obvious.
    An erroneous observation that I see in many psychology journals, is the tendency for subjectively or belittle the natural talents that groups belonging to the Machiavellian neurodiversity have as great handling ability. Another is the artificial charm. The most important thing in charm, is not necessarily the person who is producing it being true or not, but what is the impact of it on target. We are at all times, charming and half the time, I believe in good faith that we are artificially charming.
    There is a tendency on the part of the psychological to use dualistic analysis of things, we made sure that will tell half the truth. This type of mental approach is extremely common among humans, but it seems to me that evolutionary turn is precisely the ability to manipulate this duality or even dismiss it. This capability could be understood by many professionals as an error or a disorder or an abnormality in the pattern of mental functioning ability to build systems where it is not, because if someone is able to manipulate and integrate three disparate ideas into a new idea , then this is not abnormal, is evolutionary.
    The group of traits in the dark half of the spectrum is not really doing good things for society, but this is not a parameter to determine what is normal.

  4. Staffan says:

    Yes, some sadist probably enjoy pain themselves, but that’s probably not related to the trait as such.

    In politics we have to distinguish between those genuinely interested and those are into it for the money and privileges. Dark trait people have little or no empathy and that’s something you need to be genuinely into politics.

    These studies found no correlation between sadism and openness but it didn’t look into novelty seeking, which is more related to psychopathy, if I remember correctly.

    “I’m so averse to bigotry, lies and irrational behaviors, which my reaction makes me question my own self perception of my character. .”

    This is pretty much the complete opposite of Dark Triad. These people relate to others in an instrumental way.

    “In the end, the pseudo-Narcissism is a trait that is not only present among sociopaths, psychopaths and borderlines, but also autistic. I call pseudo-narcissism because narcissism is based on a caricatured interpretation about yourself, while for a sociopath or for a median aspie, define themselves as smarter than their peers” normal” is only an observation trivial of the obvious.”

    I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a meaningful distinction between a psychopath and a sociopath, but dark traits are related to actual narcissism. And aspie rationally concluding that he is superior is just being rational and perhaps a bit lacking in social skills if he talks about it too much.

    Sure, we all manipulate people and lie too, for what we perceive as a good purpose. But for people who score high on these traits, that is the normal way of relating to others regardless of the purpose.

    I agree with you view on abnormality. As an example, psychopathy is most likely an evolutionary strategy and not a disorder by any reasonable definition of the word. But as you well know, psychiatry is big business and money talks louder than rational thought.

    • Gottlieb says:

      ”This is pretty much the complete opposite of Dark Triad. These people relate to others in an instrumental way.”

      I also have a tendency to relate to people from a instrumental way, first because most people around me are too stupid and backward to understand what I understand and I developed as a ‘particular individual culture’. As an enthusiast hbd movement I have another mask to use for now, it is just an attempt to be neutral or ”indifferent” with the politically correct sameness. Despite presenting myself as someone with a foot in the dark spectrum of human personality, I think this is more because of my knowledge about the ability of the masses to identify and eliminate threats to their irrational internal cohesion.
      I believe people can create means for instrumental social relationships, especially from the time when we no longer have any connection with them. This happens between groups of high intelligence and medium and low intelligence. We get along just enough to people who do not belong to our group. Tolerance is unnatural to humans.

      ”I agree with you view on abnormality. As an example, psychopathy is most likely an evolutionary strategy and not a disorder by any reasonable definition of the word. But as you well know, psychiatry is big business and money talks louder than rational thought.”

      Yes, I believe that the very people who are suffering with so called mental disorders, who invented psychiatry. This is a movement created to identify, separate and ostracize dissenters with the potential to hurt the existing social arrangement.

      ”I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a meaningful distinction between a psychopath and a sociopath, but dark traits are related to actual narcissism. And aspie rationally concluding that he is superior is just being rational and perhaps a bit lacking in social skills if he talks about it too much.”

      Well, I think the sociopath is much less impulsive than the psychopath. And the differences between the two could be that among the types of high-functioning. The high-functioning psychopath would tend to keep very obvious dark traits despite increased capacity while the high-functioning sociopath tend to be much more sophisticated in its handling capacity. But perhaps they are the same thing or levels of empathy may be the main border between the two.

  5. Staffan says:

    “I also have a tendency to relate to people from a instrumental way, first because most people around me are too stupid and backward to understand what I understand and I developed as a ‘particular individual culture’.”

    But this isn’t your first choice as it is with actual dark triad people. They deal with everyone instrumentally.

    I think “sociopath” is a just another word for psychopath but as Robert Hare says, preferred by those who think that societal factors contribute to this sort of behavior. There is of course the highfunctioning psychopath, being less impulsive but completely lacking in empathy and not being narcissist or machiavellist. I don’t think there is a special term for this though. They could be fairly common, given that they are so much less conspicuous than the classical dark triad types.

    • Gottlieb says:

      There are no studies that estimate the percentage of the population within the psychopathic spectrum? Yes I know that 1% of the population or more, 4% would be psychopaths, but what about the rest of the spectrum? And these people should be framed in the morbid category?

      • Staffan says:

        Since it’s a dimensional trait we are all more or less in the spectrum. I becomes a bit arbitrary to draw a line and say people at this point or more are low-level psychopaths. But one study showed that 2.3 percent scored 11 or higher on the Psychopathy Checklist (PCL), something they thought of as “possible psychopaths.”

        (The 4 percent you mention is probably anti-social personality disorder which is a heterogenous category of impulsive and low IQ people. Many of those are pretty normal. I’m not sure it’s in use anymore.)

  6. minoritymagnet says:

    Non-directed aggression towards other non-related conspecifics. Sounds like a form of Hamiltonian spite.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamiltonian_spite

  7. Staffan says:

    It seems like a possibility. I mean, it’s just the other side of familiar altruism. I suspect this sort of thing is at the heart of tribalism and outgroup hostility. On the other hand sadism is often found in families too. It may of course be that whatever they do to family members is just a fraction of what they do to non-kin.

  8. Gottlieb says:

    http://www.hgi.org.uk/archive/psychosis.htm#.UwITQWJdW8A

    Like i imagine, people with mental idiosyncrasies are like exotic plants in the forest, when the place exhibit something wrong they are the first to feel and to alert us. Our western society act strongly wrong with these people. Sad!
    Today, always that appear a serial killer o mass-school-killer the (dumb) people immediately fit with schizophrenia when the most probable situation is that the hypothetical guy have comorbidity with psychopathy or something similar condition.
    Other interesting dumb action of ”mèrdia” and other bureaucratic stuff is that they simply ignore the environment of this teen before the tragedy. How he was treated by your ”friends” and other importants questions.
    But, no, the veredict of the mèrdia is ” the guy kill people of your class because he was or is schizophrenic”. ” Now we will pray for angels in the sky that was these poor and innocent kids”. A one web of events is not exactly the same that all others events and schizophrenia is not psychopathy. The ”normal average people” do not should participate of the scientific and moral decisions more important.
    I also think that schizophrenia and psychotic spectrum could like or relate to sleeping disturb.

    • Staffan says:

      That’s one way of looking at it, and it probably has some truth to it. But another way is to say that the big difference in recovery from schizophrenia in the West compared to in third world countries may be a matter of politics.

      Psychiatrists in the third world may simply be taking the Western prevalence as something they should be aiming for when they diagnose people and if they have less schizophrenia they will diagnose lighter schizotypal cases. That would explain the difference in recovery rates. If they instead produce much lower prevalence rates they essentially say there is a big group difference in this condition that in turn is strongly linked to personality.

      Although this has little to do with sadism…

  9. […] Sadism: A New Addition to the Dark Triad? – from staffan. […]

  10. Gottlieb says:

    Thank you for your kindness and for all bloggers hbd for having supported me with my soup understandable fine print. But now I must go, I will continue to follow your blog dear Swedish friend.
    If I can learn English, prepare the umbrella, because it will drop a little rain of meteors.
    Farewell and the Volcano God bless your oxygen.
    Bye.

    • Staffan says:

      Thank you,

      It seems to me that your English has improved during the time I’ve read your comments. You’ve certainly made a valuable and idiosyncratic contribution to this blog, and I hope you will do so in the future too.

  11. Gottlieb says:

    :)
    Thanks.

  12. JayMan says:

    Off topic, but I wanted to get your input:

    Agreeableness and empathy

    http://elijahlarmstrong.wordpress.com/2014/02/23/agreeableness-and-empathy/

  13. Anthony says:

    This is not to say that sadomasochism doesn’t exist. Most sexual relationships probably have an element of S&M. According to Wikipedia, one German survey showed 69 percent of female respondents engaged in fantasies of that kind. So it’s fairly normal.

    Reading the details given in the Wikipedia article, and drawing on my own experiences, I think pure sexual sadism – people being sexually aroused by causing pain in others – is fairly rare. Sexual masochism – being aroused by some kind of pain, or enjoying pain when it occurs in a sexual context (which aren’t quite the same thing) – is more frequent. What seems to be very common, however, is dominance and submission behaviors, which often don’t cause any pain. Sexual dominance probably doesn’t correlate to (general) sadism, but probably does correlate to social dominance.

    • Staffan says:

      You may be right. The Wikipedia entry doesn’t state specifically that it’s about pain. Perhaps people say they like S & M when they really mean D & S. Although these concepts are clearly overlapping…

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