Narcissistic men with a victim mentality who believe in conspiracy theories: Study shows that ‘cryptobros’ really do exist

A notable number of cryptocurrency investors tend to present typical dark personality traits including Machiavellianism and psychopathy, according to a large survey published by the scientific journal Plos One

Raúl Coelho
A macro event organized at the WiZink Center in Madrid by the Mundo Crypto Academy in August 2022.Santi Burgos (El País)
Jordi Pérez Colomé

Investing in cryptocurrencies has become popular in recent years. However, it has not spread equally throughout society. In internet culture, the loudest group of crypto investors has even been dubbed cryptobros: a confusing mix of male, argumentative, arrogant characters. In 2022, a group of researchers from the Universities of Toronto and Miami decided to analyze what cryptocurrency investors were really like: they conducted a survey of 2,001 American adults and 30% of those surveyed said they owned digital currencies. And the psychological traits of the crypto investors coincided with the researchers’ hypothesis: they believe in conspiracy theories, support political extremism and have what are known as dark personality traits (narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy and sadism). The results were published this Wednesday in the scientific journal Plos One.

Internet memes had already sensed that this set of traits was what defined the so-called cryptobros. Originally, the researchers did not have this stereotypical concept in mind, but their conclusions come very close to the popular idea. “Perhaps it’s a funny coincidence that our findings seem to somewhat support the idea of cryptobros,” acknowledges Shane Littrell, a professor at the University of Toronto and one of the co-authors. Their initial intention was to find out what distinguished cryptocurrency holders, whether they were really “psychologically non-normative” and “politically unconventional” people. “This area of financial investing has grown in popularity quite quickly in recent years, so we were curious as to why some people are drawn to it and others are not,” Littrell explained via email.

The variables most strongly correlated with cryptocurrency ownership are “are being male, having a victimhood mindset, and relying on alternative/fringe social media as one’s primary news source,” according to the study. Other characteristics that strongly predict who owns cryptocurrencies are being male, argumentativeness, higher-than-average income and an aversion to authoritarianism. Of all the long list of characteristics that serve to predict the possession of cryptocurrencies, such as being religious, the likelihood of ever running for public office, or age, one of the characteristics that best predicts that an individual will not have cryptocurrencies is being a woman.

“So-called dark personality traits are associated with non-normative attitudes,” says Littrell. “For example, previous research has found that the degree to which a person engages in risky financial behaviors such as gambling, and risky investing in the stock market, can be predicted by levels of certain dark personality traits such as narcissism or psychopathy. In many cases, cryptocurrencies are an inherently high-risk financial investment, so it makes sense that the traits associated with risky financial behavior in general would also occur in this type,” he adds.

From Telegram to 8kun

Alternative information sources are also another basic cryptocurrency ownership predictor: “One result I found interesting is that cryptocurrency investors are more likely to get their news from secondary social media sources like Telegram, Truth Social and Reddit, and less likely to seek information from traditional, credible sources. I’m not sure, but I think our study may be one of the first to examine this connection,” explains Littrell, who adds that this type of behavior may be linked to underestimating the risk that comes with using this type of currency.

”Cryptocurrency owners may have a more distorted perception of the risks involved in this type of investment because they seem to prefer less reliable sources of information,” he adds. The sources of information most used by crypto investors are Telegram, YouTube, Reddit, Twitter (the survey was done before the network was renamed X), blogs and 8kun, the anonymous forum originally known as 8chan. The least likely sources were Facebook and digital newspapers.

The research does not affirm that crypto investors are all like this, only that the percentage of people who define themselves as having these types of traits in that group is especially notable. The individuals analyzed showed a varied interest in the political right and left, which made it difficult to assign them a specific ideology. The study focused on knowing what kind of personalities crypto holders are most likely to have, but not, for example, if there is a difference between those who opt for Bitcoin, the most traditional kind of cryptocurrency, or new, more unstable modalities.

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