Everyday Sadism

Sadists take pleasure from causing others pain—know anyone like that? Chances are, there are more than a few people in your life who operate this way, and a new study published in Psychological Science suggests that sadism is an everyday fact of life.

Researchers had seventy-one students take personality tests, and then choose between four jobs: killing insects, helping to kill insects, cleaning a toilet, and holding their hands in icy cold water. Perhaps unsurprisingly, students who scored higher for sadism made up the majority of the insect killers and their assistants. This job consisted of carrying insects named Muffin, Ike, and Tootsie to a grinder, where the researchers fooled the participants into thinking that they were grinding the insects to death and  a sound effect like nuts crunching was played.

Perhaps more surprisingly, the sadists reported less pleasure after killing than the non-sadists—but, it turns out, the sadists reported much less pleasure across all jobs than the non-sadists, suggesting that sadists engage in cruelty to makeup for low baseline pleasure.

In a follow up study, the students had a chance to blast an opponent with white noise. The students thought that they were participating in a reaction-time study, where they’d complete a challenge against an opponent in another room and, upon victory, gain the chance to blast their opponent with white noise. Of course, there wasn’t really another opponent—but the sadists thought that there was, and they took every opportunity to blast their opponents, even when the opponents did not blast the sadists.

This study suggests that sadism isn’t something confined to the bedroom or criminals—chances are, some of the headaches in your life aren’t really caused by harmless mistakes, but by genuine malice.


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