Flaming Mimicks Orbitofrontal Cortex Damage

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In an essay in the New York Times science section yesterday, Daniel Goleman, author of Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, points to research that indicates that lack of face-to-face contact is the key to the "online disinhibition effect," aka, flaming. Social psychologists find that in normal interactions, people take social cues from one another's facial expressions, tone of voice and so forth and moderate their responses.

In internet discourse such immediate social cues are lacking and some people start referring to those with whom they disagree with such names as "dumbfuck" which, one presumes, they would be more reluctant to do, say, if they met their opponent at a party. 

Flamers be warned. Goleman cites a recent example of "web rage" provoked by flaming. 

Last October, in what The Times of London described as "Britain's first 'Web rage' attack," a 47-year-old Londoner was convicted of assault on a man with whom he had traded insults in a chat room. He and a friend tracked down the man and attacked him with a pickax handle and a knife.

What to do?

One proposed solution to flaming is replacing typed messages with video. The assumption is that getting a message along with its emotional nuances might help us dampen the impulse to flame.

As for me–I would rather that the insults keep coming instead of letting people see me working comfortably dressed on my computer at home. On the other hand, I believe that people are learning that flaming is counterproductive and are already becoming more polite cyber-citizens.

Whole Times essay here .  

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  1. I believe that people are learning that flaming is counterproductive and are already becoming more polite cyber-citizens.

    LOLOLOL you dumbfuck rtard.

  2. “I would rather that the insults keep coming instead of letting people see me working comfortably dressed on my computer at home.”

    Good plan, Ron. Because I’ve seen you, and you look like a dumbfuck. But you don’t write like one.

  3. And the law of the internet strikes: when you call someone an idiot, you will likely forget to close a tag or something and thereby look like an idiot.

  4. “instead of letting people see me working comfortably dressed on my computer at home”

    or undressed

    ;P

  5. If only there were a way to convey the emotional context of one’s message. Perhaps some sort of small icons representing common facial expressions.

  6. This is why one of my least favorite trends in the world is the proliferation of “user generated content”. I liked living with the illusion that the majority of people in the world aren’t idiots. Obviously, when something is created for that purpose, one comes in knowing they have to deal with the crap that goes on, but why do I need a running sidebar on every story on ESPN.com detailing what “YNKSSUXX!!1!857” thinks about the latest development in the Bonds steroids investigation. For that matter, why the hell is half of CNN these days “user generated content”? What do I care what a housewife from Iowa thinks about global warming? And why does every story have to be followed up with this? They did a one minute blurb on the major airline delays in New York yesterday, and then followed that up with a 10 minute piece interviewing “men on the street” about their worst travel stories.

    “Once I waited on the runway for like three hours. SwearitstrueIdid. There was no reason at all, tell ya. None. We just sat there. I tellyawhat I’m as patient a guy as the next one but by the end of that I was ready to say nothankyousir to airplanes for a good long while, uh-huh.”

    I know attention spans aren’t what they used to be, and there are 24 hours to fill, and the internet means if you don’t update content continuously you can’t keep your “viewer eyes melted per square inch” numbers up, and if you don’t give the kids a chance to scrawl on your page someone else will but.. jeez… can’t we at least turn it off?

    Ok. Rant off. Now I have to go get some darn kids off my lawn.

  7. i’m reminded of the pro drug war piece that came up in rightwingnews a while back; the response on that site was generally “you must be a hippie drug addict who just wants more drugs, hippie.” i wonder if they would have been detered by a face to face meeting with someone who appeared most un-hippy-junkie-esque?

    on the other hand, the temptation to just tell poster “rose” that “i appreciate your fears about drug legalization and decriminalization” while wearing a pink tu tu and beating off would have been tremendously difficult to suppress.

  8. Isn’t this blatantly obvious? Does it really take a social scientist to say people will be meaner to each other when anonymous and when they can’t even see the other person? This seems as obvious as saying hot, thirsty people will prefer cold drinks to hot drinks.

  9. I think it helps everyone to know how people really behave. You can structure arguments better if you know your audience better, everyone learns cues as to whom is not worth listening to, and so on. I don’t like living the lie because public discourse gets slanted in an unhelpful direction when it is only professionals arguing amongst themselves.

  10. O’RLY?
    ROFLMAO

    If Daniel Goleman were a dinosaur, he’d be Retardosaurus Rex.

  11. I think one premise here that needs challenging is the idea that discourse would be better if it were more polite, and that therefore we should seek to duplicate the social inhibitions that exist in face-to-face interaction.

    I would counter that all of that “facial expression cue” stuff can be crumpled up into a ball and summarized this way: “Direct social interactions are informed at all times by the implicit threat of violence.” In other words, people are polite in person because they fear the possibility of getting punched in the head if they aren’t.

    But that to me means that in direct interaction you aren’t hearing what the person actually thinks. You’re hearing a version of what they think, filtered through whatever their fear level is. The flaming you see online is superior communication, to the extent that it actually constitutes communication of peoples’ true underlying opinions, which might otherwise be concealed.

  12. Seems to me that people were much more polite 10 years ago and earlier on USENET and IRC than they are now.

    Not sure if it has anything to do with the general AOL folks ‘escaping’ to the real internet, but that was a popular theory a few years ago. AOL even expanded it’s TOS policy to rudeness anyplace on the internet back then, or at least started pointedly informing people about that part of the policy.

  13. Side note on that ‘web rage’ business, didn’t the UK already ban clubs and knives? Why didn’t that law stop this assault?

    Yes, it was rhetorical.

  14. But that to me means that in direct interaction you aren’t hearing what the person actually thinks. You’re hearing a version of what they think, filtered through whatever their fear level is. The flaming you see online is superior communication, to the extent that it actually constitutes communication of peoples’ true underlying opinions, which might otherwise be concealed.

    I agree with Fluffy. This bears repeating:

    But that to me means that in direct interaction you aren’t hearing what the person actually thinks. You’re hearing a version of what they think, filtered through whatever their fear level is.

    That’s where inane, predictable “small talk” comes from.

  15. I try to mention Cthulhu in my small talk as much as possible for exactly that reason, Smacky. It weirds people out, catches them off guard, maybe gets them to go read a book.

  16. You have a point Fluffy, but I think you’re missing a critical point: that social conventions are sort of the Robert’s Rules of human interaction. While your point applies very much to, for example, the Florida legislator in the hurricane thread not saying to his fellow legislators “You are all crooks. You are essentially aiding robbery. You should be ashamed and, likely, in jail.” and we are all the worse for it, I think it doesn’t really go to “flaming” persay. The concern here is more people that don’t even really care what they’re saying, and aren’t even attempting to add anything to the conversation. I, and I think society, acknowledges that two people have a rational argument about the role of the state in my life is of more value to me than one of those people talking to someone who repeatedly yells “STATIST SHIT LICKER” or some such nonsense in his face the whole day long.

    In short, it’s the sort of behavior that actually PREVENTS people from saying important things that need to be said. Your argument is an eloquent one, I think, against what is generally deemed “liberal censorship” – i.e. the use of words like racist or “hate speech” to describe things you don’t agree with and/or find unpleasant, therefore demanding their exclusion from discussion, but I don’t think it’s really relevant in the face of inane babble.

  17. I’d post a funny flame, but a bunch of dumbfucks beat me to it.

  18. The only thing I don’t really buy about the “online disinhibition effect” is that it should apply just as much to written communication – I mean, old-fashioned pen-and-paper stuff – and it doesn’t seem to. I’m trying to picture it now:

    Haddon House
    Madison, Wisconsin

    April 19, 1907

    The Editor
    The Mercantile-Onion
    1313 Mockingbird Lane
    Mobile, Alabama

    Dear Sir,

    Having read your editorial in this Sunday’s Mercantile-Onion on the deplorable effects of violent entertainment in the kinematoscope on our great nation’s young people, I feel it my duty as a citizen to inform you that OMG U R A DUMBFUK

    I remain,
    Your most humble servant,
    John Q. Public

    Like I said, I’m just not quite seeing it here. Perhaps the difference comes from the instant gratification of electronic communications – see something you don’t like, write a reply, bang! it’s off – but that’s not the same thing as disinhibition from not being able to see the recipient.

  19. For the record, I can be a complete dickhead in person too.

  20. JD,

    The longer lead time between responses allows for tempers to cool. Typically you aren’t reading dead-tree media at your writing desk, but on your sofa or at the kitchen table. So you have to put down the paper that offended you, write your flamey epistle, get a stamp, and mail it off. That’s a lot of time to reconsider.

    Online, you’re reading right in front of your keyboard. It costs nothing to post a response, and there’s no hunting for a stamp. If posts to H&R cost a quarter a pop, and you had to have the token pre bought and have it in hand in order to post, you’d be a lot less likely to waste your time on a flame.

    Asshat.

  21. My last post was completely pointless, but I had the impulse and acted on it. Hmm.

  22. Seriously…where else will the invertabrate suburbanite find a place to relieve all the built up tensions of being boxed-in, pimped-out, tied over a barrell, and second rate? These worthless, frightened, emasculated people that constitute the American “middle class” have never done anything in their entire lives but play the patsy to a system that neither cares for them or their opinion. The internet gives them the opportunity to be as emboldened in their communications as the tough-guy stereotypical examples provided by their fluff entertainment from Netflix. In the real world, these types have nothing: they have no power, no ability, no influence, nothing. They spend their days insulting others in their hope that they might find some remnant of their psyche they haven’t sold-out to the system.

    In short: they are a bunch of douchebags( no slight intended to real douchebags…only the perpetrators)

  23. hot, thirsty people

  24. Give me your wired, your poor…

  25. Stevo!

    “Giggles” the Midget S&M Clown appreciates your, um, “impulses”!

    um. Please pass the cheetos.

  26. Fred, isn’t your post an example of the very phenomenon it purports to describe?

    It’s like the communion wafer of internet posts!

  27. lunchstealer – Indeed, but that was my point. It’s about instant gratification vs. forced delay, not about “lack of face-to-face contact” per se.

    Tard.

  28. What do I care what a housewife from Iowa thinks about global warming?

    or what some commentor posts on a blog?

  29. gaijin: tl;dr

  30. in the semantic world, as well as the real one, monkeys fling shit to protect territory

    get used to it

    that there’s any angst over manners cracks me up

    reminds me of Robert Anton Wilson:

    Benny had actually read Darwin once, in college a long time ago, and had heard of sciences like ethology and ecology, but the facts of evolution had never really registered on him. He never thought of himself as a primate. He never realized his friends and associates were primates. Above all, he never understood that the alpha males of Unistat were typical leaders of primate bands. As a result of this inability to see the obvious, Benny was constantly alarmed and terrified by the behavior of himself, his friends and associates and especially the alpha males of the pack. Since he didn’t know it was ordinary primate behavior, it seemed just awful to him.

  31. gaijin:

    *Obviously, when something is created for that purpose, one comes in knowing they have to deal with the crap that goes on,*

    If you’re visiting a blog, you do so because you’re interested in reading what others have to say (or more probably, just saying what you want to say). My point is exactly that, the world of blogs isn’t even that great IN blogs – why the hell is everything else rushing to recreate it on top of what’s supposed to be, I don’t know, “news” or “facts”?

  32. Shut the fuck up, you dumb redneck, ignorant fuck…

    That was actually a part of my conversation yesterday…with a dumb redneck, ignorant fuck.

    No need to waste such wonderful aggression on the WWWeb…

  33. As a side note / disclosure:

    I risked getting my ass kicked by a couple of dumb redneck ignorant fucks in the process of saying that LOL…

    So, don’t try this at home kiddos…

  34. Dumb asshats

  35. ^ typical net tautology

  36. Social cues just make me angrier. Stupid fucking cues.

  37. As some commenter on a blog, why should I care whether some other commenter on a blog cares about what some commenter on a blog thinks?

  38. JD- As a small-town newspaper guy, I can assure you that pen-and-paper hategrams do exist. I got a six-page one yesterday.

  39. Yet more proof of the egregious pro-Libertarian bias in the mainstream media.

  40. Andy-Something like that. Apparently, part of the person’s problem with me is that a year ago, in the midst of a three-hours school board meeting, I stepped outside for a smoke. Small towns, man…

  41. “Three-hour”

  42. It’s my computer and I’ll flame who I want to.

  43. knives take lives

  44. Fluffy… No need to take it personal…I did not personally challenge you to prove my point, but thanks anyway.

  45. Oh, wow – you were serious Fred? I kind of assumed it was a parody kind of thing.

  46. I didn’t RTFA, but the point about written pen and paper letters not including this kind of thing to such a degree, despite the possibility of being anonymous brought something to my mind. People are writing on the internet the kind of rash, unthought things they would say in conversation. I say quite a few very stupid, inflammatory, insulting things in conversation, but my husband just shakes his head and says “Yes, honey, some people suck.”
    On the internet, these sort of insults are left up for other people to read and language and tone influence people to insult you in kind for thinking so-and-so is really, really stupid.

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