We have discussed why it is important to use your real name on the internet; we have also dissected the difference between Hate Mail and Spam and concluding there is no difference. Now the New York Times explains the research behind Web Rage.
In a 2004 article in the journal CyberPsychology & Behavior, John Suler, a psychologist at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J., suggested that several psychological factors lead to online disinhibition: the anonymity of a Web pseudonym; invisibility to others; the time lag between sending an e-mail message and getting feedback; the exaggerated sense of self from being alone; and the lack of any online authority figure.
This work points to a design flaw inherent in the interface between the brain’s social circuitry and the online world. In face-to-face interaction, the brain reads a continual cascade of emotional signs and social cues, instantaneously using them to guide our next move so that the encounter goes well. Much of this social guidance occurs in circuitry centered on the orbitofrontal cortex, a center for empathy. This cortex uses that social scan to help make sure that what we do next will keep the interaction on track.
Have you ever said something online you would never utter in person?
How do you handle people online who seem perpetually angry and always looking for a fight?
When you write comments here, do you post everything you write, or do you sometimes censor your thoughts and revise your comment or even decide not to publish what you wrote?
Research by Jennifer Beer, a psychologist at the University of California, Davis, finds that this face-to-face guidance system inhibits impulses for actions that would upset the other person or otherwise throw the interaction off. Neurological patients with a damaged orbitofrontal cortex lose the ability to modulate the amygdala, a source of unruly impulses; like small children, they commit mortifying social gaffes like kissing a complete stranger, blithely unaware that they are doing anything untoward.
Socially artful responses emerge largely in the neural chatter between the orbitofrontal cortex and emotional centers like the amygdala that generate impulsivity. But the cortex needs social information — a change in tone of voice, say — to know how to select and channel our impulses. And in e-mail there are no channels for voice, facial expression or other cues from the person who will receive what we say.
Are online emoticons merely a facade or can they convey appropriate facial expression for interpretation? Are smilies cued text or only cute text? Is it easier to misread an emoticon for real emotion?
Flaming can be induced in some people with alarming ease. Consider an experiment, reported in 2002 in The Journal of Language and Social Psychology, in which pairs of college students — strangers — were put in separate booths to get to know each other better by exchanging messages in a simulated online chat room.
While coming and going into the lab, the students were well behaved. But the experimenter was stunned to see the messages many of the students sent. About 20 percent of the e-mail conversations immediately became outrageously lewd or simply rude.
Is there a danger of the virtual becoming real? Have you ever picked up a phone to “clear the air” with someone you’ve been misreading — or who has been misreading you — in email or a text chat? Has someone you met online come to find you in person without your knowledge or approval?
And now, the online equivalent of road rage has joined the list of Internet dangers. 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. 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.
Do you think video will solve web rage?
Or will people put on harder masks to fool others as to their real intent and felt emotion?
Are we in for a virtual world where everything real dies and only the imitative is accepted without any sort of internal correction system synapsing into place?
Are we doomed to lose all our inhibitions and become unfettered streams of public consciousness?