Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Sagarin, Brad J.

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Psychology


Research has begun to investigate subclinical levels of sadism including “everyday sadism:” an enjoyment of cruelty in normal, everyday situations. Thus far, subclinical sadism has been conceptualized as inherently antisocial, as with Internet trolls. I examined a potentially prosocial manifestation of sadism: self-identified sadists in the BDSM community who cause pain only to consenting partners. 532 BDSM practitioners and nonpractitioners completed measures of everyday sadism with consent explicit, nonconsent explicit, or consent ambiguous, and known correlates of everyday sadism (empathy, HEXACO traits, and Dark Triad traits). Consistent with hypotheses, the general adult sample demonstrated negative correlations between everyday sadism and affective empathy, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and honesty-humility. Positive correlations were found between everyday sadism and Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism. Contrary to predictions, cognitive empathy demonstrated a negative relationship with everyday sadism in all conditions. Across all conditions within the BDSM sample, negative correlations were found between everyday sadism and affective empathy, agreeableness, and honesty-humility while positive correlations were found with Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism. Conscientiousness was nonsignificant in all BDSM groups while cognitive empathy demonstrated a negative relationship with everyday sadism in the nonconsent condition only. Psychopathy uniquely predicted everyday sadism among BDSM practitioners when nonconsent was explicit. BDSM sadists differed from nonsadistic BDSM tops only on the physical subscale of everyday sadism and only when consent was explicit. These findings suggest that most BDSM sadists are not everyday sadists, and that BDSM sadism might represent a prosocial manifestation of subclinical sadism, but that BDSM sadists with high levels of psychopathy might be everyday sadists.


123 pages




Northern Illinois University

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