Ever since the launch of Bitcoin’s open-source software helped popularize the concept 15 years ago, people from all walks of life have waded into the cryptocurrency market.

Yet some personalities are more drawn to the decentralized, anonymous system of economics than others.

A poll of just over 2,000 American adults conducted across the US in 2022 confirmed a tendency for owners of one the many thousands of cryptocurrencies in existence to possess a ‘dark’ personality.

What’s more, the University of Toronto and University of Miami researchers behind the recent analysis of the data also uncovered an association with beliefs in conspiracy theories and a higher use of fringe social media platforms.

Though the concept of a privacy-preserving digital system of economics dates back to the 1980s, it was the launch of Bitcoin in 2009 that attracted serious investment from a more mainstream population.

The global cryptocurrency market capital is worth just under US$2.5 trillion, most of it in the form of Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Tether.

To those who invest, the encrypted ledger technology behind the currency offers a means of privacy and security that other forms of coinage can’t, putting economic control directly in the hands of the distributors of wealth by doing away with the need for financial institutions and state oversight.

In reality, crypto remains a fringe form of currency held afloat by a passionate minority, having more in common with gambling chips than a pocket full of cash.

Motivated by a distrust in mainstream authorities, investors in cryptocurrency might be assumed to place greater stock in conspiracies, with alternative political leanings and a reduced trust in science.

Yet existing research struggles to confine investors to any particular ideologies, finding owners of digital currencies can variously be described as anarchists, libertarians, and populists. Other studies note a concerning relationship between far-right beliefs and white supremacism.

To determine just what defines the kinds of individuals willing to buy into the cryptocurrency dream, University of Toronto cognitive psychologist Shane Littrell and colleagues Casey Klofstad and Joseph Uscinski from the University of Miami polled 2,001 Americans on their cryptocurrency ownership and political, psychological, and social characteristics.

Just 30 percent of the respondents claimed to have owned cryptocurrency, a group that was surprisingly diverse in their politics, representing a range of political ideologies that sweep in from the extreme edges of the left and the right.

Yet there was also a tendency for investors to fall outside the traditional spectrum, adhering to orientations of Christian nationalism and American exceptionalism. They were also typically represented by dark personality traits, such as narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism, scoring slightly higher than non-crypto investors on scales reflecting a need for chaos, supporting similar findings of past surveys.

By far, the biggest predictors of being an owner of cryptocurrency now or in the past are being male, relying heavily on fringe forms of social media for news, being argumentative, and having an aversion to authoritarian forms of government.

With such a small sample of self-reported results, it’s difficult to say with confidence how representative the findings are of the general community, especially outside of the US. It’s also important to reiterate that purchasers of crypto coins aren’t all cut from the same cloth, with hugely diverse drives and interests guiding their investment decisions.

Yet the authors argue their findings contribute valuable details that help us better understand the cryptocurrency demographic in a world where trust in traditional authority structures and media sources grows increasingly fragmented.

“As governments seek to more tightly regulate, or in some cases, emulate, cryptocurrencies, understanding the attraction of such currencies will be necessary,” the team writes.

This research was published in PLOS ONE.

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