What happens when you give a sadist a cup of bugs and a coffee grinder?

By Seriously Science | October 1, 2013 1:00 pm

Figure 1: Materials used in the bug-killing task. The large picture shows the bug-crunching machine (a modified coffee grinder) and three cups containing live pill bugs, with the bugs’ names printed on them. The inset depicts two pill bugs next to a ruler to show their scale.

Are sadists all around us? Here, researchers tested people for “everyday sadism” — basically, whether some seemingly normal people actually harbor sadistic tendencies. First, the scientists gave participants (psychology undergraduates) a written test meant to identify sadistic personality traits. They then did two experiments. The first–and most hilarious– was a “bug-killing task” that involved three pill bugs named Muffin, Tootsie, and Ike (read on below the jump for the full description). The second was a computer game in which the participant was made to believe that he/she could ‘harm’ an innocent opponent by blasting them with loud white noise. The result? People with sadistic tendencies took pleasure in killing the bugs and harming their opponent, indicating that this trait should be incorporated into future evaluations of “socially aversive personalities”. RIP, Muffin.

Behavioral Confirmation of Everyday Sadism.

“Past research on socially aversive personalities has focused on subclinical psychopathy, subclinical narcissism, and Machiavellianism-the “Dark Triad” of personality. In the research reported here, we evaluated whether an everyday form of sadism should be added to that list. Acts of apparent cruelty were captured using two laboratory procedures, and we showed that such behavior could be predicted with two measures of sadistic personality. Study 1 featured a bug-killing paradigm. As expected, sadists volunteered to kill bugs at greater rates than did nonsadists. Study 2 examined willingness to harm an innocent victim. When aggression was easy, sadism and Dark Triad measures predicted unprovoked aggression. However, only sadists were willing to work for the opportunity to hurt an innocent person. 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.”

Bonus excerpt from the materials and methods:

“If bug killing was chosen, participants were presented with the bug-crunching machine, which actually was a modified coffee grinder (see Fig. 1). Each of three cups adjacent to the machine contained a live pill bug. The bugs’ names—Muffin, Ike, and Tootsie—were written on the cups. The participant’s job was to drop the bugs into the machine, force down the cover, and “grind them up,” starting with Muffin. The experimenter sat on the other side of the room, apparently checking e-mail. Unbeknownst to participants, a barrier prevented the bugs from reaching the grinding blades. Thus, it appeared and sounded as though the bugs were being crunched, but no bugs were harmed in the experiment.”

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: feelings shmeelings

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