Sadism: Review of an elusive construct
Sadism is a personality trait characterised by the enjoyment of other people's pain or suffering. In this narrative literature review, I provide an overview of the sadism research to date, appraising critical issues in the current literature and highlighting future research directions. I start with the issues surrounding the definition and measurement of sadism: there is debate regarding exactly what sadism is, which has led to a number of limitations with existing measures. I then discuss the relationship between sadism and antisocial behaviour: sadism is clearly associated with cruel behaviour towards others, but its exact role in such behaviour, and the precise distinction between sadistic and non-sadistic crimes, has proved hard to characterise. I consider sadism in the context of other antagonistic personality traits – psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism – and throughout the review I also discuss sexual sadism, a related construct characterised by sexual arousal to others' suffering. Finally, I consider future research directions: clear definitions and measurement tools, the development of sadism in childhood and adolescence, and the evaluation of possible treatments. Sadism often motivates antisocial behaviour, which takes a significant toll on its victims; understanding exactly what sadism is, and whether it can be treated, is of vital importance.