Catfights over politics. Religion. Government.
Screaming. Slandering. It ranges from snide remarks shot with a sneer to not-so-sneaky professions of black-and-white opinion. Nonetheless, every side staunching human progress and treading water, circulating through the same endless debates like a tug-of-war game going nowhere fast: You’re wrong! I’m right!
This is true, this is false, this is what I believe and anything you say otherwise is invalid.
We see it everywhere nowadays: in the comment sections of Youtube videos and Facebook posts, in the news, in the halls of our schools, offices, and homes. Thus, the question is raised– why are people so rude to each other?
Instead of wondering idly for a moment and abandoning the thought with a shrug–”that’s just the way it is sometimes”–I decided to dive deeper into the concept. What does make people jump at each other’s throats? Is it just a few people hardwired with negativity or cattiness? Or is it something deeper…something biological?
Though perhaps I can’t crack the case, I can investigate. If you’ve ever wondered this same thing when faced with pointless feuds or cruel words, read on. Let’s investigate three of the main negative actions we see in today’s world.
Never budging on an opinion
In today’s world–especially in the weeks to months approaching Election Day–we are bombarded with infinite arguments and animosity between supporters of differing laws, candidates, beliefs, political parties, and more.
But in my experience, what escalates these debates and distorts them into malicious fights is the human nature of never budging on an opinion. Throw facts into the arena. Reason. Morality. And it still doesn’t matter sometimes…people just keep arguing!
What causes this? One of the main catalysts is a phenomenon called “confirmation bias.” What is this? According to The New Yorker, confirmation bias is “the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them” (Kolbert). After forming an initial opinion, it is human nature to stick with this opinion, even when faced with conflicting evidence.
Haven’t you felt it too? You consider swaying your opinion on a subject but you’ve already rooted yourself too firmly. Doubling down against mounting reason to cling to your ego with both hands… an argument that would seem logical if you hadn’t taken a stance now seems absurd or irrelevant. Defensiveness turns to aggression. Screaming. Yelling. Shame, if you know you were wrong. Twisted pride if it turns out you were right.
We can’t fully blame people for ignoring evidence and rejecting certain information. Confirmation bias, as stated in Encyclopedia Britannica, is “largely unintentional” and may just be a way for the human brain to process information more efficiently (Casad).
With so much input–facts, figures, words, propaganda, reason, data–zooming in from every perspective, our brain doesn’t have the time or energy to process each piece of information from an unbiased standpoint. Ignoring or dismissing evidence that is conflicting to our initial viewpoint could just be a psychological, instinct-driven method to quickly sort through the flood of input (Casad). This is a mental reflex that evolved from the need to make choices on the fly and evaluate facts in our environment.
From another scientific viewpoint, this phenomenon could be a way for people to shield their ego and boost self-esteem (Casad). Admitting you are wrong in an argument can be embarrassing or shameful, even more so the harder you dig your heels in.
Based on the theory of confirmation bias, the human desire to feel superior to others or better about themselves, and many other deeply ingrained factors, perhaps “never budging on an opinion” isn’t always done with malicious intent. Sometimes stubbornness truly is human nature!
However, confirmation bias and psychological factors don’t justify repetitive arguments or making ill-fated decisions to protect pride. Though it can be an explanation, it doesn’t excuse the behavior, just like how a lawyer saying “people have a natural tendency towards greed” wouldn’t pardon a bank-robber. So what can we do?
We can fight this by encouraging open-mindedness in debates and learning critical-thinking skills. Before entering into a heated debate, consider the already-formed opinions of yourself and the people around you and how that might influence the dialogue exchanged. Try to gather information from a variety of sources–you wouldn’t write a college essay about how oil drilling is good, then cite “Premium Oil Co.” as your only source, would you?
Spreading rumors and false information
Rumor-mongering is especially prominent around Election Day here in America, but it is also something we see daily. On Facebook, posts about which foods to feed your dogs, “life hacks” on Youtube that don’t actually work, trolls online literally telling you to microwave a spoon if your ice cream won’t scoop (Please DO NOT microwave a spoon!).
Slander and misinformation are harmful, but more often than not, lies spread faster than the truth. The Washington Post article “We finally know for sure that lies spread faster than truth. This might be why” explains that a reason for this is that fake stories often have more novelty, drama, or are more entertaining than reality (McArdle). In real life, stories are not as clear cut or exciting, with 100% evil villains or completely innocent victims, which makes fabricated statements more compelling and “shareable.”
Let’s take this as an example. A study finds that a brand of dog food has been linked to cancer or premature death in 3 out of 1000 dogs. Two articles are published to Facebook on the topic. One is titled: “Dog Food Co. Kibble May Be Linked to Cancer in Some Pets, Studies Show, Among Other Factors.” The other is titled: “Dog Food Co. Kibble Is Killing Your Pets–Why You Should Stop Feeding It To Them NOW.” Which do you think will spread faster? The second headline, without fail. The title is falsely exaggerated to the point of clickbait–in the study only 0.3% of dogs experienced cancer, which may or may not be related to the food–but the shock value and novelty will spread this post like wildfire.
You cannot blame people if they genuinely did not know the information they spread was false. Ignorance is not excusable in general, but in examples like the one above, you can assume that the “facts” were shared out of genuine concern with positive intentions.
However, it is the same rumor-mongering that will quickly morph to slander in the political and social world. Negative campaigning is said to be more effective than positive messages as an election tactic, and public figures will often use this to their advantage.
When people intentionally spread lies it can be for social gain, to solicit attention from others, or out of revenge for some misdeed they perceive.
Some things we can do to combat the spread of slander and misinformation are to check our sources, whether they are online, in writing, or word of mouth. You should always look for credible sources.
Has this person been biased by something? Have they been trustworthy in the past?
Does this website look professional? Does the author have any expertise or education in the field? Does the information seem too crazy or too good to be true?
Communication is key in today’s world, now more than ever.
If you’ve ever dove down the rabbit hole called the comment section on a celebrity post or Youtube video, or walked through the crowd when someone is performing or presenting, you’ve seen this with your own eyes. Heard it time and time again.
Criticism. Blindly hateful–all out assaults on character traits. Assails on flaws. Snooty remarks for no reason other than…nothing. Hate for no reason but to be hateful.
Why do people judge others so intensely?
Science shows that our brains are programmed to make snap judgements about people and things as a method for mental efficiency (Hall). Think about it… could you imagine if you had to carefully analyze every single action of a celebrity on the news or a person you pass on the street? Just like with confirmation bias, judging others can be a mechanism to avoid overloading our minds while we focus on more important things.
But judgements aren’t always a bad thing. Where the true malicious spirit of criticism arises is in a type of judgement called “personality attributions.” Personality attributions are when we consider a person’s behavior to reflect their personality as a whole and not just their current situation (Hall).
For example, say I was watching a Youtube video and the person on screen momentarily ignored their hungry pet to talk to their friend. Immediately, my mind could make the personality attributions that this person is self-centered, uncompassionate, or didn’t care about their pet. Spewing this all over the comments sparks further criticism–his clothes are ugly too. Her hair is so greasy! That dog is a mongrel anyway! Or going as far as to write, someone should call the police for animal neglect!
But if instead I had made a situational attribution, considering the events or factors that may have inspired the person’s behavior (Hall), this firestorm could have been avoided. Maybe the Youtuber was stressed and overloaded with work. Maybe their dog is on a diet and begs for food constantly. Perhaps the friend was having a difficult time and the person was attending to their needs first to comfort them, and the dog was fed immediately after filming.
Studies have shown that when judging someone we don’t know very well, we are more likely to make personality attributions than situational ones. However, the opposite is true for loved ones or friends, from whom we may dismiss a hurtful word as stress or exertion…but the same hurtful word from a stranger would signal to us that they are a callous, rude person (Hall).
Making snap-judgements and spreading criticism may be instantaneous, like attributions. But when criticisms are thought-out or published truly with intent to harm, there can be many factors. Someone could be trying to boost their own reputation by withering another’s, as you will often see in campaign ads. Someone could be acting out of envy, criticizing a feature that they privately covet, or hoping to make the other person seem inferior in any way possible: she’s pretty, but she’s probably failing all her classes. That boy is good at everything, he probably practices all the time… he should get a life!
I myself am guilty of all of these judgements, especially ones out of envy. When a person seems too perfect, it is our egotistical nature to want to knock them down a notch to make ourselves feel better. So if personality attributions, self-esteem and ego issues, and the desire for political/social success are influencing these criticisms, what can we do to staunch the hate?
First of all, we can make an effort to be aware of our attributions (Hall). By attempting to make more situational attributions, our empathy for others grows and we can understand what other people are going through at home, at work, or in life.
As for judgements made from jealousy, it is increasingly difficult to avoid nowadays with social media. Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat are all bursting with the highlights in other people’s worlds, them presenting themselves in the best light possible. If you want to learn more about how to combat this, visit my other article, Envy–Why we feel it, how to get rid of it. Try thinking about yourself not as in competition with others, but on the same grand team.
If you see a beautiful girl on social media, rather than comparing yourself to her, lift her up with a compliment.
If someone is faster or smarter than you, do your best to encourage them to grow and succeed–they will most likely return the favor. If you believe that all of humanity is striving towards greatness together, you can feel good about lifting others up and improving yourself along the way. Driving progress for all.
Why are people so rude to each other? Why do we say awful things, do awful things? Why do people never budge on an opinion? Criticize others? Spread lies and rumors? I hope my research has helped answer a few of these questions to some degree.
In the end, don’t get too frustrated. As humans, some of these behaviors are picked up from our environment, ingrained in psychological and physical evolution, or just staples of personality. Keep focus on the positive nature of humanity also. We can’t rely on everyone being polite or perfect or even good…but we can work to better ourselves and our world. Together. One step at a time.
Kolbert, Elizabeth, and Maria Konnikova. “Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds.” The New Yorker, 27 Feb. 2017, www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/27/why-facts-dont-change-our-minds
Casad, Bettina J. “Confirmation Bias.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 9 Oct. 2019, www.britannica.com/science/confirmation-bias
Hall, Elizabeth Dorrance. “Why We Judge Others.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 11 May 2018, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/conscious-communication/201805/why-we-judge-others
McArdle, Megan. “Opinion | We Finally Know for Sure That Lies Spread Faster than the Truth. This Might Be Why.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 15 Mar. 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/we-finally-know-for-sure-that-lies-spread-faster-than-the-truth-this-might-be-why/2018/03/14/92ab1aae-27a6-11e8-bc72-077aa4dab9ef_story.html