New research on the Dark Tetrad and loneliness illuminates online abuse.
Our uniqueness makes us special, makes perception valuable-but it can also make us lonely. This loneliness is different from being ‘alone’: You can be lonely even surrounded by people. The feeling I’m talking about stems from the sense that we can never fully share the truth of who we are. I experienced this acutely at an early age.-Amy Tan
Loneliness is a powerful psychological, emotional and behavioral state, associated with significant risks to mental and physical health. Online trolling is a huge and growing problem, as well. According to the Pew Research Center (Online Harassment, 2017), 41 percent of Americans have themselves experienced online harassment, and over 60 percent report having been witness to such actions.
While many of these behaviors are of the milder variety, nearly 20 percent of people in the Pew survey reported they had “been subjected to particularly severe forms of harassment online, such as physical threats, harassment over a sustained period, sexual harassment or stalking.” Given rising rates of both loneliness and online harassment, and the research reviewed below, are they related?
Loneliness and aggression are correlated
As researcher Keita Masui from the Department of Psychology of Otemon Gakuin University in Japan notes, loneliness, in addition to being a source of unwellness and personal suffering, can spell trouble for others as well. Masui reviews the literature on loneliness and aggression. Because loneliness represents a state of chronic frustration and unmet need, it can trigger aggression toward others as a way to discharge tension or express oneself-even if in maladaptive ways.
Research shows that experiences and traits related to loneliness have been found, for example, in perpetrators of school shootings, where a history of bullying and rejection sets the stage for tragedy. Other studies reviewed confirm that lonely adolescents are more likely to be physically and emotionally aggressive and that when people are bullied in the real world, they are more likely to act out on the internet.