Campus research measures spite

BY RENEE MCCANN | Evergreen reporter

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For the first time, researchers have developed a scale to measure spite.

By observing behavioral traits like psychopathy, narcissism, and aggression, researchers in the WSU psychology department and collaborators have created a scale that measures spiteful behaviors in people.

Another trait assessed in the study is Machiavellianism, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as ‘the employment of cunning and duplicity in statecraft or in general conduct.’

Spiteful behavior encompasses acts of hurting an opponent even if it means the actor will also somehow suffer from that action, said David Marcus, the director of clinical training in the psychology department and the primary researcher in the study.

“(The) first step is to measure it,” Marcus said. “Then we can see how it relates to a whole bunch of other things.”

To conduct the study, the researchers surveyed more than 1,200 people using an online questionnaire to reach college students as well as an older crowd. They surveyed students at WSU and Oakland University, as well as others through an online survey on Amazon, Marcus said.

The study participants were asked how much they agreed with different scenarios like, “I would rather no one get extra credit in a class if it meant that others would receive more credit than me.”

The study found that men are more likely to be spiteful. They also found that elders and children were less likely to act spitefully, said Virgil Zeigler-Hill, an associate professor and director of graduate training at Oakland University’s Department of Psychology.

There can be some advantages to spitefulness as a defense mechanism, Zeigler-Hill said. Showing the behavior of spitefulness sends signals to others that tell them not to mess with or harm an individual.

“If you’re in a dog-eat-dog world then spitefulness may have its advantages,” Zeigler-Hill said.

Zeigler-Hill is now working on more studies looking at whether or not spitefulness plays a role in economic decision making.

The research on spitefulness may have uses for psychologists because behaviors like spitefulness and related actions can be used as indicators to identify personality disorders, said Alyssa Norris, counseling assistant at WSU’s counseling services and psychology graduate student.

This research is also important because not many other psychological research studies have looked at spitefulness. Future studies may continue to look at what causes the behaviors in people and if there are sex differences in the behavior, Norris said.

“It’s interesting because it helps us understand why people are behaving the way they do,” Norris said.