Toward Better Communications on the BBS



One thing I’ve realized I need to work on, especially for emotional topics, is the need to 1) make it clear what I’m hearing from the other person that I disagree with, and 2) what I’m arguing for. It is very easy to get sidetracked into a variety of minutia no one actually cares about, but which become proxy battles for the main point.

But mostly, I think trying to be a kind, decent person in real life will do more for me, politically and otherwise, than any argument I can get into on the internet, which is why I’m trying to avoid emotionally draining subjects altogether when I can.


Well said.



Some (relatively small-sample) research on trolling and empathy. Not exactly rocket science:

(And the thread I got it from:


The first link has been truncated; try


That’s interesting. I’m curious to know how much these traits of empathy are considered to be static and how much they can be taught.

At least trolls are engaging with people online, and IMHO seeking out some form of community. It seems that if they keep returning to a space time and time again that there is an opportunity to help them learn empathy.

When I volunteered on a listening hotline, we’d have repeat callers who had really low levels of emotional skills that did find that by calling hotlines they could connect with people. There were several who were basically trolls. Sometimes we could break through with them; most of the time it was sort of a game. There were long discussions about whether to call block these people so others could use the services or whether it was important that they get the help that they were getting out of it - and whether the tradeoff was worth the wear and tear on the volunteers. The one I volunteered at did not call block but did train volunteers to move them off the lines quickly if they didn’t want to engage.

Recently, I learned that a local hotline handles these people by having a staff of trained professionals that their calls get routed to, so the repeat callers get ongoing care from people familiar with their history and issues.




A challenge when attempting to train psychopathic people in empathy is the risk that you may just be teaching them to be more effective manipulators. Affective empathy (i.e. “I feel bad when I see others suffer”) is required, not just cognitive empathy (i.e. “I recognise suffering in others”).


Having had the bad luck to know a suspected psychopath who was also the child of a psychiatrist (and thus had easy access to ideas of healthy emotional patterns growing up), I know this is a real concern. I’ve seen this person be nearly in tears about a dead bird in the sidewalk or something, and then abruptly switch to talking about something else with a completely calm voice and no evidence of the previous upset. Like flicking a light switch.


There is some thought that by engaging the sociopathic/psychopathic tendency toward self-preservation/beneficial behaviors that one could “train” such people to be altruistic. The thinking is that by teaching recognition of the different personal consequences between “harmful” and “altruistic” behaviors the individual will choose the behaviors that most likely offer positive or neutral consequences. This approach is grounded in the fact that many people in helping professions score quite high on measures of psychopathy/sociopathy.


That just made a while lot of things I’ve seen and experienced make sense. Thank you!


Well, so do CEOs. Not that CEOs being sociopaths disproves anything. I think it’s the pretty common knowledge that MDs and police generally tend toward sociopathy, but the same is true for teachers, firefighters, therapists, social workers, etc. How various systems reward or punish behavior influences sociopathic behavior inside those systems. If one is not rewarded adequately for altruistic behavior and consequences for harmful behavior aren’t enforced, guess which behaviors increase?


I’d heard about the CEOs, but not the others. I worked as a teacher for a number of years, and that makes a whole lot of things make sense now.


I, too, have heard of the Ceo-sociopath correlation.
I’d be interested is seeing any studies/proof/substantiation of the others you’ve mentioned there.
There’s a difference, I think, between being in a profession that requires occasional use of an authoritative persona and being a sociopath.


Well, my posts are a synthesis of a lot of reading that I’ve done & lectures that I’ve attended over the years. There’s been a lot written in mainstream journalism the last ten years about the CEO-sociopath/psychopath correlation. Less so about other careers, though most reporting focuses on a couple of assessment instruments and the norms that were used. So, a general googling will turn up some basic stuff on this - but a lot of what I learned about this topic came as asides in my HR days (career counseling and assessment) as well as my training as a psychologist learning about narcissism and treating personality disorders.

Deeper research on this topic involves differentiation between sociopathy, psychopathy, and antisocial personality disorder (APD). Some research and literature in the field uses these terms interchangeably, while some is very specific in the definitions. Most current research focuses on APD because that’s the DSM-IV & DSM-V diagnostic label that describes a kind of psychopathology (a mental illness, a general term not be confused with the specific term “psychopath”), which means that it’s a problem and, typically, these are people who usually end up going to prison or committing heinous crimes.

Sociopath and psychopath are not officially recognized diagnoses in the field of psychology - not anymore. In psychoanalytic psychology (a discipline of psychology) they are sort of understood to be personality types - particularly malignant or pathological narcissists. A sociopath is generally understood to possess a cluster of traits that include things like charm and manipulation. A psychopath is generally understood to possess the same traits as a sociopath, but prone to violence. Both tend to view other people as tools or obstacles.

A significant amount of research is focused on identifying traits that will allow for early intervention (crime prevention), which draws on known offender populations to create measurement tools. These tools were then “normed” on a variety of populations and some were discarded because the measures weren’t showing strong correlations between crime and suspected traits. What they did show was correlations along broad categories of people, meaning that people across all walks of life exhibited sociopathic/psychopathic traits, and some weren’t criminals or in leadership roles. That’s how we got books like “The Psychopath Next Door.” For a very long time, the bias was that women couldn’t be sociopaths/psychopaths, a lot of these measurement studies called that assumption into questions.

Now, as I alluded to above, there hasn’t been a cohesive body of research about why maybe people with these traits end up in certain professions, but there have been studies about why high profile careers attract people with these traits. So lots about CEOs/business people, politicians/civil servants, MDs/surgeons, police/military, etc., and less about professions and people that have social reputation as altruistic (like therapists and teachers). A lot of confirmation bias when the data has been a lot more complex than that.

I know that this response isn’t a bibliography of peer-reviewed research, but I don’t even know where to begin to share primary literature on this topic - it’s vast, contradictory, and doesn’t directly address your question or my statements. I guess just take my info with a grain of salt?


Incidentally, I was using “psychopath” in the same sense as the internet trolling research paper did, i.e. “people who score highly on the psychopathy facet of a scientifically valid personality test”.

Dark triad personality factors, not ye olde Freudian archetype version.

The “empathy training may make psychopathy worse” suggestion is an unproven hypothesis, not an established fact. It’s plausible, though; further research is required.


Thanks for the link. Interesting article. It looks like everyone is still using the PCL-R. IIRC, it was developed and normed on forensic populations (prisoners and inpatients) so it’s application with other populations is iffy.

As a depth psychotherapist, I am compelled to throw this in: Freud rejected the concept of archetypes - that’s a Jungian thing. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:


It sounds like what we need is a rehabilitation cube.


This website design leaves much to be desire, but the exercise is very powerful. Try exploring an interaction you had that left you feeling pissed off.


Thanks for this.

What exercises, resources or tools in your learning would help with suppressing or eliminating the pissed off feeling of missing out on someone’s positive qualities or non-irritating interactions when it seems from past and present interactions that person won’t share them with you but seems caught in a pattern of condescension and dismissiveness?

I understand neutral observation of the interchanges is key, but what if the online communication platform isn’t one that allows a medium- or long-term storage of the “Stimulator”'s public interchanges with others, so one can’t review them to see if the “Stimulator” has a tendency toward abrasion, or if the “Respondent” is being overly sensitive or is otherwise having a moment of emotional vulnerability?