The result of a new study from the University of Kent may surprise you. Researchers surveyed 100 adults, ages 18 to 54, on their feelings about revenge porn, which the researchers defined as “the act of sharing intimate, sexually graphic images and/or videos of another person onto public online platforms, such as Facebook.”
The results were published in the International Journal of Technoethics and found a shocking 99 percent of people surveyed expressed “at least some approval” of revenge porn being posted online when presented with the scenario of having a significant other walking out on them.
The disturbing conclusions can be explained by the study’s questionable methodology. The report states “only participants who emphatically stated their disagreement with the questions were regarded as presenting no endorsement of revenge porn.”
This is significant because researchers used a sliding scale of approval to determine respondents feelings about revenge porn. Only those that marked “strongly disagree” were counted as people opposed to revenge porn. Those who marked “disagree” or “no opinion” were counted as people who showed “at least some approval.”
Still, despite its shaky methodology, the study is the first to find a connection between a set of personality traits and a willingness to post revenge porn online. Researchers found that people who admitted they were more likely to engage in revenge porn were also more likely to endorse the “Dark Triad” of personality traits, or in other words, “socially aversive traits of Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism.”
Justin W. Patchin, the co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center and professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, said “There haven’t been many studies on this problem, so as an exploratory look, it provides some value. We definitely should not jump to conclusions based on this study alone, however, for a lot of reasons (mostly methodological).”
“It is a very small, non-representative, and self-selected sample,” he added. “This is perhaps defensible as it is an exploratory study, but certainly a more sophisticated and generalizable sample will be necessary in order to have more confidence in the results.”
Zhana Vrangalova, professor of human sexuality at New York University, agreed. “This is bad science, with possibly some odd personal agenda guiding these interpretations,” she told Gizmodo.
“Given that it was a non-representative sample of the population recruited through social media, as well as a relatively small sample, generalizability of these findings is highly limited,” she said, “especially when it comes to the basic prevalence statistics, like the authors highly misleading claim that 99 percent of people expressed at least some approval of revenge porn.”
David Wilder, professor of social psychology at Rutgers, also questioned the 99 percent approval statistic, but found at least other parts of the study to be more valid. “We can conclude that there is a moderately positive correlation between the personality measures of Narcissism and Machiavellianism and the endorsement of revenge porn,” he said. “That makes sense intuitively as one would expect that self-centered and controlling individuals should experience the greatest frustration and seek revenge on those who have harmed them. The sample size is adequate given that the statistics used to test the significance of correlations takes into account sample size.”
Overall, there’s still plenty of more work to be done. “We just collected data [in September] from a national US sample of 5,500 middle and high school students, and about 4 percent said someone tried to blackmail or threaten them with a sexually explicit image they sent the other person,” said Patchin. “Interestingly, significantly more boys said this happened to them than girls (4.7 percent compared to 3.1 percent)... The point being that more research is necessary to better understand these behaviors, as well as the motivations and consequences.”
Still, the University of Kent’s new study is an important first step toward researching behaviors and impulses surrounding revenge porn. If there’s any reasonable conclusions we can draw, it’s that people who found revenge porn more entertaining and less distressing, were also more likely to score high on the Dark Triad personality traits (narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy) and ambivalent sexism. Now, at least we have data to back up the claim that many of the awful people posting revenge porn have a severe lack of empathy for others and often “show traits of psychopathy.” Who could have guessed?