Introverted IT students are more likely to indulge in "deviant" computer activity, according to a new study.
The result might seem unsurprising, given the stereotypical image of computer geeks as socially inadequate. But the study contradicts previous research that found computer misuse is more common among extroverts.
The new work was carried out by computer scientists Marcus Rogers and Kirti Tidke from Purdue University in Indiana, US, and psychologist Kathryn Seigfried from John Jay College in New York, US.
The researchers surveyed 77 computer science students at Purdue University using an anonymous, web-based questionnaire. Students were asked whether they had indulged in one of several "deviant" computer acts, some of which could be classified as illegal, reports New Scientist.
These activities were guessing or using another person's password, reading or changing someone else's files, writing or using a computer virus, obtaining credit card numbers and "using a device to obtain free phone calls".
The number of IT students who admitted to such behaviour was high. “Of 77 students, 68 admitted to engaging in an activity that could be classified as deviant,” Rogers told New Scientist. And those who admitted to having indulged in such behaviour also appeared to be markedly more introverted than those who had not. On average, these "deviant" students rated themselves 10 percentage points higher on an "introversion scale".
As the study is small, Rogers cautions against rushing to conclusions. "While the media has portrayed those individuals who are involved in criminal computer behaviour as being socially underdeveloped and introverted, this study does not provide an endorsement for such a sweeping generalisation," he and colleagues write in the journal Digital Investigation.
The study also contradicts the results of an earlier investigation, also carried out by Rogers and colleagues. In 2003, they surveyed arts students at the University of Manitoba, Canada, and found that those who admitted to criminal, or "deviant", computer behaviour were generally more extroverted.
Rogers speculates that the “different focuses” among arts and IT students may explain the contrasting results, with art students possibly more extrovert than the IT crowd.