The Angry Chimp Model of forum interaction

Here is a model of how people behave on online forums (and probably many other low body cue environments) where the people don't know each other other than through the little window that is their online personality.

Some random topic is being discussed and a participant states something which creates a high stress level. For example, the topic might be the performance of the V8 HSV commodore on rally racing. People will be discussing how amazingly fast it runs on the straight track. Then someone comes into the discussion as says "That's all very good, but rally races have lots of corners, I think a 2+2 V6 hybrid with flywheel cornering storage is a better design." This may or may not be a true assessment but the result is quite predictable: lots of angry chimps.

The chimps will jump up and down and hoot at each other and poopoo the idea. What's more, as pfh once pointed out to me, people very rarely will 'lose' an argument. They will not say 'I was wrong'. So the angry chimps will dig their heels in and no amount of persuasion from the stressor will change their view point.

The trick is to state the opinion, then step away from the discussion until the angry chimp mode has settled down. Once people have recovered their rationality they will be able to assess the argument and perhaps find it compelling (or not). By staying in the argument and pushing it the stressor will simply make it harder to win the argument. Basically, a correct argument covering all the important points will fight itself without any additional advocacy.

More surprising is the fact that if such an argument is not promoted by the stressor, others seem to take up the position (it seems that groups require at least one devil's advocate).

Body language cues seem to reduce this effect, presumably the angry chimp mode dies out more quickly when facing a real person.

(I had originally credited L with this idea, but she disavows it)


Lots of prominent writers rediscover the old principle that one should not reply to critics. Hume (17th C) espoused it as a rule, and except for once, seems to have followed it.

I expect they found the same phenomenon. - ctwardy