The effect that explains why you regret posting in anger

Illustration for article titled The effect that explains why you regret posting in anger

Ever come across one of your old angry Internet comments and cringed with disbelief? There's a reason for that. While good feelings still feel immediate over time, negative ones tend to fade away quickly, leaving only angry tweets behind.


If someone told you that we lose the intensity of negative events faster than positive ones, you'd probably be surprised. At least you'd be surprised if you're anything like me. I can work myself into a frenzy of anger at people from elementary school — those little cherub-faced bastards — so it surprised me that there is a phenomenon in psychology known as the fading affect bias.

The fading affect bias indicates that people lose the intensity of events that inspired negative emotion faster than events that inspire positive emotion. True, events that are life and death still hold he power to hurt or enrage, but overall, negative emotions fade. Generally, fading affect bias is tested by having test subjects keep a diary, for whatever length of time, chronicling both the negative and positive events that occur in their lives and their emotional reactions to those events. Researchers have asked people to revisit the diaries anywhere from a half-day to four-and-a-half years later. With regards to everyday pleasures and frustrations, people rereading the events still "felt" the positive emotions they had experienced, but for the most part were disconnected from the negative emotions. True, these were day-to-day frustrations, not terrible events that can haunt people for life, but the fact is they faded. People weren't angry anymore.


The Internet, via journaling sites, tweets, or comments, allows us to express both the positive and negative emotions we feel on a moment-to-moment basis. Unfortunately, because the internet is more public than a diary, those updates aren't just read by the person who made them. While you might look back on past posts with calmness and detachment — or maybe a little humor — other people who read them don't have the same distance on the event. Every heated political tract or emotional outburst reads just as passionately heartfelt as it was meant to be when it was written. Its writer has moved on, but its reader hasn't. This leads to a lot of net regret. And that only increases with time.

[Via Applied Cognitive Psychology, The Fading Affect Bias and Closure, Applied Cognitive Psychology]

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"People weren't angry anymore." Now, this is not about the internet.

My wife can get angry with me over something she remembers that I did 20 years ago. She has also gotten angry with me for something that happened in a dream.