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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The psychology of everyday sadism Buckels, Erin Evelyn


Although psychological conceptions of sadism have traditionally viewed it as a clinical-forensic disorder, there is emerging scientific interest in the view that sadism extends to the normal range of personality. Sadistic personality is defined as an enduring tendency to enjoy cruelty toward others. To capture the full scope of this trait, I constructed and validated a self-report questionnaire—the Comprehensive Assessment of Sadistic Tendencies (CAST)—designed to assess three overlapping, but distinct facets of sadism, covering enjoyment of physical violence, verbal aggression, and violent media consumption. As part of the psychometric evaluation and validation process (Chapter 2), I administered the CAST to multiple samples of university students and community adults (total N = 5,553). Results from exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses supported the CAST’s three-factor structure. The instrument produced excellent internal consistency and test-retest reliability estimates. Overall CAST scores were positively associated with other malevolent traits (including aggression and the Dark Triad of personality: psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism), and negatively associated with prosocial traits such as empathy. Convergent validity was demonstrated by high correlations between CAST scores and those of alternative unidimensional sadism measures. Discriminant validity was evident in the CAST’s lack of association with theoretically unrelated constructs such as emotional stability. Subsequent research (Chapters 3-5) demonstrated the predictive and incremental validity of the CAST, including the unique contributions of the three subscales. In Chapter 3 (total N = 2,779), sadism was a strong positive predictor of online trolling behavior (which was, in turn, distinguishable from cyberbullying). In Chapter 4 (N = 412), sadism predicted a pattern of inaccurate and negative interpersonal perceptions, with effects emerging for both sadistic perceivers and sadistic targets. In Chapter 5 (total N = 540), sadism predicted tendencies to underestimate others’ suffering and minimize culpability for harm; both effects were statistically explained by positive affect. Taken together, the results support the construct validity of sadistic personality, and the inclusion of sadism in new “Dark Tetrad” of personality.

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