Innovation

What's with all the angry people on the web?

Why are people so hateful in web forums? It may have something to do with their genetic make-up.

Those of us who blog know that we are sitting ducks for angry outbursts from anonymous readers. Although sometimes bloggers deserve angry feedback, many times the reactions we get are way out of proportion to the issue.

Although I recommend blogging for IT pros as a way to raise their professional profile, I also caution them that it requires thick skin to withstand the vitriol and the insults. While most people are sensible and nice, there are those few who will tell you your face is ugly or sling verbal assaults at your character because there is a typo in your blog.

So what's going on here?

First, people who would not normally confront anyone out of fear of getting their face rearranged, find that the freedom of anonymity and cyberspace releases their inner jackass. Behind the safety of their keyboards they become ten feet tall and bullet-proof.

Second, unfortunately, anger releases an adrenaline and dopamine rush. And, according to research, that combination can be addictive to some people. Here are findings from recent research I found on the Neurological Correlates web site:

Korean researchers combined a psychological test for trait anger with a genetic analysis of their dopamine receptor genes.

If a dopamine receptor gene has extra pieces of DNA in it, then the dopamine receptor protein (encoded by the gene) may be misshapen or may not be produced in sufficient quantity - and it may take more dopamine to actually bind to the receptor to get the synapse to fire in the neuron. For instance, the "7-repeat allele" - a dopamine receptor with seven extra pieces of DNA - is associated with ADHD (see the iHOP (Information Hyperlinked Over Proteins) database entry for DrD4 or the Wikipedia dopamine receptor genes entry, and scroll down for some references).

So, the researchers found, in their population, people who weren't anger-holics and who were the live-and-let-live types had the dopamine receptor gene with few extra pieces of DNA (the "2-repeat allele"). The people who scored high on a trait-anger test had a higher number of DNA repeats (the "4-repeat allele").

So, I guess my question is are there more of these deformed-gene people running around or has the web just increased the ability to get a "fix"?

If you are the type who likes to insult and ridicule via online forums, even if you have genetic reasons to do so, here are a couple of things to do to perhaps forestall your response:

Take a moment before you touch the keyboard and ask yourself:

  • Will what I'm about to say solve the problem I'm having with this person or is it just satisfying my need to lash out?
  • Is what I'm about to type a productive comment or am I just feeding my desire to call someone an idiot and, indirectly, make myself feel superior?
  • Am I addressing the right person about this problem? For example, if an ad feed is messing up a page, the blogger has nothing to do with it. If the website is having a problem, the blogger has nothing to do with it. If there is a typo, there is a way to point it out without calling the blogger's character into question.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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