I am a woman born 1949 and my quest is to find a mindmate
to grow old together as a mutually devoted couple
in a relationship based upon the
egalitarian rational commitment paradigm
bonded by intrinsic commitment
as each other's safe haven and secure basis.

The purpose of this blog is to enable the right man
to recognize us as reciprocal mindmates and
to encourage him to contact me:

The entries directly concerning,
who could be my mindmate,
are mainly at the beginning.
If this is your predominant interest,
I suggest to read this blog in the same order
as it was written, following the numbers.

I am German, therefore my English is sometimes faulty.

Maybe you have stumbled upon this blog not as a potential match.
Please wait a short moment before zapping.

Do you know anybody, who could be my mindmate?
Your neighbour, brother, uncle, cousin, colleague, friend?
If so, please tell him to look at this blog.
While you have no reason to do this for me,
a stranger, maybe you can make someone happy, for whom you care.

Do you have your own webpage or blog,
which someone like my mindmate to be found probably reads?
If so, please mention my quest and add a link to this blog.

Monday, May 12, 2014

712. Online Discussion Forums: Observing The Peculiarities Of Behavior And The Group Dynamics

712.  Online Discussion Forums: Observing The Peculiarities Of Behavior And The Group Dynamics

The following is a fictive scenario as an illustration.

Imagine someone vacationing on a hot tropical island.   While traveling his shoe lace breaks and he needs to replace it as he needs his shoes when going back to his cold home.   Or maybe shoe laces are especially suitable to fix some item of his luggage.  In short, he has good reasons, why he wants to buy shoe laces.   But this does not imply, that he needs to discuss these reasons with any stranger.

So he asks people, where he can buy the shoe laces.   It is a simple question, and most probably people on the street, at the hotel reception or in the tourist office would give him an equally simple answer.  Either they are sorry not to know.  Or those who do know, give simply the directions how to find the shop.   Nobody in direct contact would start a discussion about his reasons to need shoe laces. 

But in the case of his asking the question on a local web forum concerning the life on this island, people probably would react very differently.   Rational behavior would be the same as that of the people when personally asked.   It would be either a suggestion about where shoe laces are sold or else no reply at all.   Instead he is prone to receive reactions like the following.
  • He may get more or less serious suggestions like those to wear sandals or to walk barefoot.  
  • He may get advice based upon some hearsay or subjective experience, like the one to better wear boots, because of someone having been bitten by a snake.
  • He may be asked to publish a picture of the shoes and the broken shoe laces.  
  • He may be criticized for being too stupid to carry spare shoe laces when traveling.
  • He may be attacked by some locals as being one of those stinking rich foreign tourists, because some other tourists have done mischief. 
  • Some people may divert to discuss their preferred color of shoe laces or the high prices on this island.  
  • Some people may start a game about the most creative ideas of what to use instead of shoe laces.

Reading forum discussions and also being the recipient of reactions to having myself asked questions, the following are my generalized observations.  

The online behavior on forums is determined by the combined effect of the specifics of written and at least impersonal, if not also anonymous communication, and of some behavioral tendencies, which can be partly explained by evolutionary psychology.   
There is also a discrepancy when important but different uses of the web are confounded:  In my example, this is finding information and needing publicity for pursuing a goal vs. social dynamics.   
My example above illustrates this discrepancy, when someone joins any forum for no other reason except getting answers to one or more specific questions, but he is involuntarily exposed to weird and unwarranted reactions of many kinds.

1.  Specifics of written communication

Suitable written postings in any forum are not too long, so they are read, but they nevertheless contain sufficient information for the intended purpose.  Therefore when someone asks any simple question like in my example concerning the purchase of shoe laces, then it suffices to express the question in an unequivocal and precise way.   He could specify, where on the island he stays to be directed to the nearest shop.   But his reason to buy shoe laces are irrelevant.   

Indirect communication without being exposed to the other's direct reaction, and the anonymity of never going to meet in person disinhibits people from being rational, civilized, polite and considerate. 

2.  Distorted reactions for ego benefits

Being able to help and to give advice makes some people feel good about themselves.   Not knowing something, even if this just means a shop selling shoe laces does not trigger this reaction.  Some people even feel bad, when they have to admit to not know something, even a trifle.  

Some people do not listen long and carefully enough to what others are really telling them, before they blur out what they belief to know.  Pouring out their alleged superior knowledge over others makes them more to feel good than just listening. 
Giving advice without being asked for in written communication is a similar behavior.   It is a form of disregard for the abilities of the other and the unknown preceding efforts.   Giving unwanted advice insinuates, that the person is unable to have himself thought of and considered these options already.    

In a posting asking a simple question it suffices, when the question itself is well expressed.   Information inviting and enabling qualified but unwanted advice is not and needs not to be provided.  Any advice, asked for or unwanted, can never be any better than the information, upon which it is based. 

Some people do not so much feel good about the absolute amount of their own knowledge and skills, instead they get the most personal benefit when they subjectively experience an apparent superiority.  They need not so much to know, but to know better and to be right compared with another person.   In the case of any lack of real superiority, they derive this benefit by instead putting others down towards an apparent inferiority.

3.  Dealing with lacking information

Lacking information and being aware thereof makes wise and rational people cautious.   If possible, they acquire more information.   Else they are aware of not being able to know, which of several possible interpretations should be chosen.   They allow themselves and give to others the benefit of the doubt. 

But there are others.   They misunderstand things, they overlook important information, they jump to conclusions, they interpret statements based upon subjective experience.  They do not doubt their own interpretation of what they hear or read.   They project their own needs, attitudes and behavioral tendencies upon others.   They have no clue, that their projections are as incorrect as the others differ from them.

They are usually biased towards an unfavorable devaluation of and an underestimation of the poster of the question.    

This can mainly be explained by:

3.1.  The Dunning-Kruger effect

When people perceive and believe their own knowledge as the general baseline, they often are unable to comprehend, what others write, say or think.   Instead of doubting themselves, and of acknowledging a lack of information, they consider anything incomprehensible automatically as the others' flaws, ignorance and deficiencies. 

They feel entitled to patronize those asking the question.  They often believe to do a favor to those, to whom they proffer unwanted and uninvited advice.  
Without explanations and background information, uninvited advice is often ridiculous and completely irrelevant.   Such advice usually includes options or apparent options, which had already been considered and discarded.   The Dunning-Kruger effect impedes the comprehension, why advice is not needed, unless it is asked for.

3.2.  Attribution of a place and role

For some people, the web is a source for information.   For some questions, the best place to ask a question is a forum, which also has become a social structure formed by the most active members of the forum group.   The person simply asking a question does not automatically intend or wish to be given a place therein.   But the wish to simply get an answer is often not accepted.   Instead any posting on a forum triggers behavior towards attributing a place to the person, who is perceived as a prospective new member to be dealt with. 

Depending on the circumstances, this attribution process can either elicit competition based upon the hierarchy instinct.  In this case, the person gets forced into status struggles, even when the person does not fight, but is passively beaten towards the role of the underdog without any attempt of self-defence.   Luckily enough, those doing this beating can attribute a low place on the hierarchy, but they cannot know, if the target really feels the beating or is protected by a shell of indifference to competition.  

Else people are so different, that the question asked suffices to perceive and to drive away the person as being outgroup, who is not considered as suitable to be allowed into the ingroup. 

The methods for driving someone towards the role of the underdog or towards exclusion are the same.   Anything real or apparent, that can be interpreted as unfavorable is used as a tool for criticism and bashing.  
Alternatively, neither the question nor further clarifications are taken for serious, instead the poster of the question is the target of jokes.  

4.  Herd behavior

The general reactions to a question depend to a certain extent upon the hazard of who reacts first and how.  When the first reply happens to be useful, then all is well.   But if the first reply starts as one of the distorted reactions mentioned above, the herd often follows this tendency.

5.  How to react

When there is no answer to the question, but instead false interpretations are believed, the question is criticized, unwanted and absurd advice is proffered, then further participation in this forum is unwise and futile.  

When people are attempting to push a person into the role of the fool, the incompetent or the underdog, when misunderstandings and omissions are purposefully used to put someone down and to make him appear stupid or wrong, then all elaborate explanations are a waste of time. 
Writing explanatory postings would be like cutting off any of Hydra's heads.   It only instigates nine more heads to grow.  Any careful attempt to explain something only leads to more willful search for using new misunderstandings and more biased misinterpretations for more attacks. 

Sometimes group members like humble newcomers.   When somebody puts himself down and asks for help, calling himself a loser, then he is usually well received.   Somebody admitting weaknesses and placing himself at the bottom does not elicit any attempts to push him there.   As long as he stays at the bottom of the hierarchy, he is treated with pity and kindness.    

Asking rational questions is not an expression of being humble.  Self confidence is perceived as a provocation.    Merely asking questions after already having figured out what to do shows self confidence.   No wish to fight a way up in the hierarchy is also perceived as a provocation.  
Provoking people can be an unavoidable side effect of the pursuit of an important goal.   But when provocation only means reacting to a power struggle, this brings no benefits.

As soon as the search for information is turned into some other people's struggle to gain secondary benefits, the wisest reaction is to withdraw.   There will be no answer and it is better to move on.