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Psychopaths Online: The Linguistic Traces of Psychopathy in Email, Text Messaging and Facebook


Individuals high in psychopathy are interpersonally manipulative, exhibit callous affect, and have criminal tendencies. The present study examines whether these attributes of psychopathy are correlated with linguistic patterns present in everyday online communication. Participants’ emails, SMS messages, and Facebook messages were collected and analyzed in relation to their scores on the Self-Report Psychopathy Test III. The findings suggest that psychopathic tendencies leave a trace in online discourse, and that different forms of online media sometimes moderate the association between a linguistic dimension and psychopathy scores. Consistent with previous studies and the emotional and interpersonal deficits central to psychopathy, participants higher in psychopathy showed more evidence of psychological distancing, wrote less comprehensible discourse, and produced more interpersonally hostile language. The results reveal that linguistic traces of psychopathy can be detected in online communication, and that those with higher traits of psychopathy fail to modify their language use across media types.

J.T. Hancock
M. Woodworth
R. Boochever
Media and Communication, 6 (3), 83-92
Publication Date
September 28, 2018