Most people do not want to hurt other people, yet there are those that enjoy being cruel (i.e., sadism). Hence, it is a personality trait that deservers study (for an excellent overview, see Buckels et al., 2013).

For other dark sides of our personality see the Dark Triad.

Note that Sadism refers to the personality trait and Cruelty refers to the actual behavior that sadistic people carry out (Buckels et al., 2013, p.2207).

In the VAST scale, two dimensions of sadism are measured, namely direct sadism (enjoying acting cruel) and vicarious sadism (enjoying watching cruelty).


For this trait of sadism, you might be particularly interested in what is within the normal range (scores can range between 1 and 5). Based on Professor Paulus' work, the following normal ranges are given for each of the three traits:

Trait Mean Standard Deviation Score above this is outside the normal range

Direct sadism in men



> 2.67

Direct sadism in women



> 1.92

Vicarious sadism in men



> 3.70

Vicarious sadism in women



> 3.02

There are considerable sex differences. The effect size in direct sadism is d=0.93 and in vicarious sadism is d=0.75 (Cohen’s d).
The scores above are subclinical, that means they are not indicative of personality disorders!

Run the demo

Note that because the items are all negative, some positive ones are randomly interleaved as fillers, which are not analyzed.

It seems that the VAST can be used for research, but you need to acknowledge the authors and their research paper when writing about it (References).


This is a simple scale question with some reverse coded items.

Note that because the items are all negative, some positive ones are randomly interleaved as fillers, which are not analyzed. The filler items are the bottom (starting with I am considered to be a kind person).

Note that the option random in the PsyToolkit scripts makes that the items are randomly interleaved.

The survey code for PsyToolkit

Copy and paste this code to your PsyToolkit account if you want to use the scale in your own online research project
scale: agree_vast
- strongly disagree
- disagree
- neither agree nor disagree
- agree
- strongly agree

l: vast
t: scale agree_vast
o: random
o: width 50%
q: Please rate how much you agree with each item
- In video games, I like the realistic blood spurts.
- I sometimes replay my favorite scenes from gory slasher films.
- I enjoy watching cage fighting (or mixed martial arts), where there is no escape.
- {reverse} I sometimes look away in horror movies.
- In car-racing, it’s the accidents that I enjoy most.
- {reverse} There’s way too much violence in sports.
- I love the YouTube clips of people fighting.
- I enjoy physically hurting people.
- {reverse} I would never purposely humiliate someone.
- I was purposely cruel to someone in high school.
- I enjoy hurting my partner during sex (or pretending to).
- I can dominate others using fear.
- I enjoy making people suffer.
- I enjoy mocking losers to their face.
- {reverse} I never said mean things to my parents.
- I enjoy tormenting animals – especially the nasty ones.
- I’m considered to be a kind person.
- By staying strong, one can better help others. 
- I’d do anything – even break the law – for those I love.
- I go out of my way to help family members.
- I have ambitions to make the world a better place.
- My goal is to be a missionary and help others.
- I give money to poor people on the street.
- I’m worried that we have already seriously damaged the Earth.
- I want to spend my life helping sick children.
- I have had some really good friends.
- I am a religious person.

l: direct_sadism
t: set
- mean $vast.8 $vast.9 $vast.10 $vast.11 $vast.12 $vast.13 $vast.14 $vast.15 $vast.16

l: vicarious_sadism
t: set
- mean $vast.1 $vast.2 $vast.3 $vast.4 $vast.5 $vast.6 $vast.7

l: feedback
t: info
q: Your scores on the varieties of sadistic tendencies are (both on a range of 1 to 5):
Score on the direct sadism subscale: {$direct_sadism}
Score on vicarious sadism subscale: {$vicarious_sadism}
Write down your scores to compare them later via the PsyToolkit website about the scale.


  • D. L. Paulhus & D. N. Jones (2015). Measuring dark personalities via questionnaire. In G. J. Boyle, D. H. Saklofske & G. Matthews (Eds.), Measures of personality and social psychological constructs (pp.562-594). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

  • Buckels, E. E., Jones, D. N., & Paulhus, D. L. (2013). Behavioral confirmation of everyday sadism. Psychological Science, 24, 2201-2209.

  • Scale also available via Professor Paulhus’s website.