Dozens Of 'Catfish' Come Clean About Why They Lie Online

It's often less about scamming money and more about being insecure and lonely.

What you need to know
  • Catfish lure their victims into a relationship by adopting a fictional online persona
  • The name 'catfishing' is used to describe the phenomena following a 2010 documentary by this name
  • Aussie researchers interviewed more than 60 catfish about why they do it

Once used to describe a freshwater fish, today an internet 'catfish' is much more sinister that it's marine predecessor.

Catfishing is used to describe an online predator who fabricates their identify to trick people into relationships.

There's very little understanding about what drives people to live false lives online -- so psychologists from the University of Queensland connected with more than 60 catfish online to find out more.

"I really like the freedom of just walking away when I get bored or uninterested,” 21-year-old catfish B said.

'B' also admitted to enjoying creating the internet personas and maintaining them for a long time.

Dr Eric Vanman is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Psychology at the University of Queensland. He worked alongside honours student Samantha Lo Monaco in assessing self-confessed catfish.

"It's an even split between genders and largely people in their 20s, although one catfish we heard from was 57," Vanman told ten daily.

Catfish told Australian researchers that escapism and loneliness often drives their behaviour.

Despite a perception that these fake online relationships are about scamming money,  the researchers found this to be untrue in many cases.

"The thing that surprises me the most is that people who are doing this aren't doing it to be malicious or as trolls. The sense we got is that it's often due to loneliness," he said.

Dissatisfaction with their physical appearance was also a common theme, accounting for around one third of responses.

"It’s a form of escapism, or a way of testing what life would be like if you were the same person but more physically attractive,” said 18-year-old 'F'.

Sixty-seven percent of responses mentioned a desire to escape, although what they were escaping varied. Some cited a lonely childhood while others admitted to grappling with social connections in the real world.

“It could seem magical, being able to escape your insecurities… But in the end it only worsens them,” 'A' admitted.

Another discovery the researchers didn't expect , was many reported feelings of guilt and self-loathing around their deceptive behaviour.

“I felt very guilty and disappointed in myself. It made me not do it again and work on my insecurities instead of being selfish with innocent people.” said 19-year old 'A'.

But that was at odds with why some admitted they've duped people online mulitple times.

"There were some people who have done it 8-9 times. They would seem to be a little addicted to this," Vanman told ten daily.

Twenty-six year old 'C' feels both highs and lows from this alternate reality.

“It’s hard to stop the addiction. Reality hit and I felt like a shitty human,” said 'C'.

Vanman said this research had only scratched the surface, and is aiming to speak with 60 more catfish to develop a more thorough picture of their personalities.

"We want to give them a personality test and screen and test for things like sadism. So far, we don't think they're sadistic in their traits because a lot of them feel guilty about it."

The next phase of the research will also examine what can be  do to help both victims and the catfish themselves.