All the Rage

Commentary on the scientific study of anger

Three Facts About Venting Online

We don't know much about online anger besides that it's common and bad for you.

The frequency and consequences of online anger are outpacing the research on online anger. We don't know much about why people take to the internet to vent, but here are three things we do know. 

1) It relaxes people (in the short-run)

In a study my research assistants and I did last year (Martin, Coyier, Van Sistine, & Schroeder, 2013), 100 percent of frequent internet ranters reported feeling calm and relaxed after posting on a rant-site like justrage.com. That said, we know that such benefits are only short-term and, in the long run, people who rant online (or in person) suffer for it. In fact, in this same study, we found that frequent ranters were angrier than the average person and expressed their anger in a more negative way than the average person. So, even though it relaxes people in the short-run, it’s bad for you in the long-run.

2) People do it often and there are consequences

Data we collected recently (unpublished at this point) shows that 46 percent of Twitter users say they often tweet as a way of dealing with or venting anger. Additionally, 37 percent of them hope the person or group they are tweeting about will read their tweet. Finally, venting online like this has consequences with 9 percent of participants reporting that, in the last month, they have gotten into an argument they regretted and 3 percent saying they lost a fried in the last month due to something they posted.

3) Anger spreads faster than other emotions

A recent study by Fan and colleagues (2013) found that anger spreads faster online than other emotions like sadness or happiness. They categorized the emotions of more than 70 million “tweets” on Weibo (a social-networking site in China, similar to Twitter) and looked to see which were more likely to be shared. They found that while happy tweets were shared by close relationships, angry tweets were shared by both close and distant relationships. They argue that anger is the most "viral" emotion. 

Taken together, we have a problematic and contagious behavior. It feels good, so people do it often even though it’s bad for them in the long-run.

There are ways of avoiding this trap, though (waiting until you cool off, having it read by someone before you post, etc.). We’ll tackle those in a later post.

Ryan Martin, Ph.D. is an anger researcher and the Chair of the Psychology Department at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

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