Meaningless and weak: Debunking the ‘Bitcoiners are psychopaths’ study

A study claiming that psychopaths and others with ‘Dark Tetrad’ personality traits are drawn to crypto has been criticized as “meaningless” for showing very weak correlativity by a psychology expert from The University of Otago.

Researchers with backgrounds predominately in marketing and advertising from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) surveyed 566 people on their attitudes toward crypto and correlated the results with four specific personality traits: narcissism, psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and sadism.

The findings were first shared by The U.S. Sun, and were widely syndicated by the mainstream media, with the New York Post headline screaming “Bitcoin fans are psychopaths who don’t care about anyone,” and Salon asserting that “Impulsive psychopaths like crypto”.

But speaking to Cointelegraph, Professor Martin Sellbom from The University of Otago’s Psychology Department — an international expert on personality disorders and personality assessment — criticized the results of the study as essentially meaningless.

“The effects they report, for example, the strength of relationships between these so-called ‘dark tetrad’ traits and attitude and intention to buy cryptocurrency are very weak, pretty much meaningless, in my opinion.”

The widely used Short Dark Triad (SD-3) personality test which rates the traits of psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism out of a maximum score of 5 was used to assess participants’ personalities.

The results of the study show that participant’s scores for psychopathy and narcissism were below the average levels as determined by psychometric assessment group OpenPsychometrics. The participants scored 2% below the average for psychopathy and 16.7% below average for narcissism, however the scores for Machievellism were 3.6% higher.

But Professor Sellbom said that in any case this line of research is “uninformative about psychopathy and narcissism,” adding:

“The measurement devices used in this literature do not capture the full manifestations of these disorders.”

The authors expanded on their results in an article for The Conversation, stating that narcissists like crypto “because of their great faith in the future”, and because of a “confidence their own lives will improve”.

Related: Crypto critics: Can FUD ever be useful?

Psychopaths were drawn to crypto apparently, because they “fear missing out on investing rewards that others are experiencing,”and Machiavellians like crypto because “they distrust politicians and government agencies.”

Other traits, like positivity, and belief in conspiracy theories were also measured as traits that “might connect the dark tetrad judgements about crypto”.

Of those surveyed only 26% owned cryptocurrency, and of those who didn’t nearly 64% said they would be “interested” in investing.

Sellbom said the methodology to link traits such as FOMO to psychopathy was flawed as collecting a sample of both the level of interest in crypto and psychometric results at the same time, from the same person only once, is “pretty much uninformative”, adding the conclusions the researchers reached “cannot be supported in the simple way that they are presenting.”

“Looking at the same results, my interpretation would be the relationship between dark tetrad traits and attitudes towards and buying intention of cryptocurrency is weak, and it is unlikely that these traits will provide much understanding of those who do engage in purchasing cryptocurrency.”

It should be noted the researchers themselves stated in the report that they aren’t out to propose that Bitcoiners are psychopaths, in the way some media outlets were quick to declare.

“We are not suggesting all crypto buyers exhibit Dark Tetrad traits. Instead, we are studying a subset of people interested in crypto who do have these traits.”

Discussing the limitations of their work, the researchers said that whilst they gauged participant interest in investing in stocks, bonds or crypto, the study could have set a control variable by measuring their intention of engaging in those types of investments.

“Many experts on psychopathy and narcissism question this so-called dark personality literature,” said Professor Sellbom, “because the researchers are not really studying these personality disorders, which are far more complex than what the measures used would suggest.”

The authors of the study are Brett Martin, Professor of Marketing QUT; Dr. Di Wang, Senior Lecturer at the QUT School of Advertising and Marketing; Jun Yao, Senior Lecturer in Marketing Macquarie University; Carolyn Strong, Professor of Marketing and Strategy Cardiff University; and Polymeros Chrysochou, Professor of Marketing Aarhus University.

Given the authors’ background in marketing and advertising, it seems possible they would understand how to frame the results of a study in a way to appeal to the mass media.

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