(Courtesy Erin Buckels)

Why do trolls troll?

Anyone who has spent time on the Web has probably wondered in exasperation what motivates people to spew venom and wreak havoc in seemingly every forum and comment section. Science has begun to provide a few answers.

A 2014 University of Manitoba study was the first to attempt to create a personality profile of trolls. Researchers surveyed hundreds of Internet users and gave them personality tests.

Most respondents said they liked to do benign things online, such as chatting and debating issues, but 5.6 percent reported that they enjoyed trolling. The personality tests for this group were striking.

People who enjoyed trolling had much higher rates of dark traits such as sadism, narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism — so much so that “it might be said that online trolls are prototypical everyday sadists,” the authors concluded.

The study also found a correlation between enjoyment of trolling and the amount of time a person spent commenting online — perhaps explaining why so many corners of the Internet seem overrun by trolls.

A 2013 George Mason University study found that trolls are not just annoying to their victims. Their actions can influence the way innocent bystanders perceive and receive information online.

The researchers asked nearly 1,200 people to respond to two versions of a blog post on the risks and benefits of nanotechnology. One had more civil comments appended, while the second had ruder and more aggressive comments.

The researchers found that reading the latter selection had a polarizing effect on respondents: Readers who thought nanotechnology was safe became more entrenched in their positions, and the same was true for people on the other side of the debate.

By now, there are probably a few trolling comments on this story, too.