How Attitude Differences Could Explain Online Trolling

By Debra Kelly on Thursday, September 10, 2015
Businessman working at his laptop
“There’s no hatred that can be satisfied either in this world or the next, and the hatred that one has for oneself is probably the one for which there is no forgiveness.” —Georges Bernanos

In A Nutshell

Recent research has found that a person’s dispositional attitude—whether they’re a positive or negative person—exists as a personality trait that’s separate from other traits. It’s like being introverted or extroverted, and knowing which one you are can help you when your personality starts sabotaging things. For example, it might indicate whether you’re going to be predisposed to like or hate the next installment of your favorite movie series.

The Whole Bushel

We all know the people who can only see life in extremes. There are those who see everything in a positive light. (If you can watch a house burning down and just be thankful that at least you didn’t spend the money on new carpeting yet, this might apply.) Then there’s the opposite side of the spectrum. (If you look at the miracle of a newborn kitten just learning to toddle along on its own, but you can only think of all the mistreated, starving, homeless cats in the world, this might apply.)

Chances are pretty good that you’ve wanted to punch someone in the face over both types of behavior, and while it might be small consolation, it’s noteworthy to understand that they just may not be able to help it.

For people who are unfailingly optimistic or morbidly negative, we tend to think those reactions are something that we get because of external stimuli. But according to researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Campaign, there’s something else at work. It’s called a dispositional attitude, and it’s a natural inclination to view things positively or negatively. That cheery attitude or hateful bile might have less to do with what’s actually going on outside a person and more to do with what’s going on inside of them.

The study looked at 2,000 people, and the end goal was to determine whether or not an inherently positive or negative attitude is dependent on external stimuli, or if it exists as an individual personality trait, like being a morning person or night person, or an introvert or an extrovert.

It does. When people were asked about different things that were completely neutral—things like showers, curtains, bottled water, T-shirts, and sea salt—their responses were weighed and researchers found that dispositional attitudes are a real thing that exist independently from other personality traits and can impact how we see the world.

Perhaps the haters and the trolls just can’t help being haters and trolls. And they’re as likely to have the same kinds of opinions about sea salt and bottled water as they are about the latest blockbuster film. It’s also a defining factor in whether or not you’re going to like new things – no matter what they are.

Although more research needs to be done, the study has some interesting implications. Knowing which category you fall into and what your dispositional attitude is can make you more aware of pitfalls when it comes to things like remembering the one negative review out of 20, if you’re a naturally negative person. It may also play a role in getting people to be more active; knowing that you’re predisposed to a negative attitude might help you get over some of that negativity to try new things and, just possibly, like them.

Show Me The Proof

LiveScience: Haters Gonna Hate? Why Some People Dislike Everything
The Atlantic: Study: People May Naturally Be Lovers or Haters
Medical Daily: A Scientific Theory Of Haters