Why a little evil is good — and a lot of empathy is bad

Linda Rodriguez McRobbie in the Boston Globe:

HALLOWEEN IS THE ONE night of the year when we’re allowed to be just a little evil. But, say some scientists, it’s not just on Halloween that we give ourselves permission to be bad. It was the “everyday sadism,” the pleasure that people find in others’ pain, that struck psychologist Delroy Paulhus, who studies evil professionally.

The head of a University of British Columbia research lab that examines “dark” personality traits, Paulhus was part of a team of researchers who in 2002 identified the “dark triad,” three distinct antisocial personality traits: narcissism, or aggressive self-promotion; Machiavellianism, the desire to manipulate those around you; and callous, self-aggrandizing, impulsive psychopathy.

In 2013, based on research that came out of his lab, the trio was joined by a fourth — “everyday sadism.” In a set of experiments led by Erin Buckels, a scientist in Paulhus’s lab, participants were asked whether they’d rather kill bugs, help an exterminator kill them, clean toilets, or plunge their hands in ice water for 60 seconds. Fifty-three percent of the respondents said they’d either kill the bugs or help the exterminator; those who elected to kill the bugs, some 26.8 percent, were then presented with three woodlice — named Tootsie, Muffin, and Ike — and a coffee grinder (unbeknownst to the participants, the bugs were shielded from a crunchy death by a plastic insert over the blades). Not only did the 26 percent “kill” some or all of the bugs, but some of them also professed to enjoy it.

More here.