From all my experience on this site, I've concluded that the act of voting is something of emotional value. Some say it is simply an indicator of quality , but I feel the most relevant/ effecting aspect of a person using this site is the psychological response to seeing a +10 or -2. Before I continue, I would like to digress on this "indicator of quality idea". It sounds great when you first hear it, but if you carefully think about it for some time, you realize it is actually non sense, because, firstly how can quality be objectively defined? secondly, let's suppose there was, then since anyone can vote, isn't the ultimate outcome of a vote is like that of a popularity contest?

I feel as a community, many peoples in discourse of issues here try to remove that vote has any emotional aspect and that it is just an indicator of quality. Let's suppose for argument that this "voting finds quality" thing actually makes sense, even then, I believe it is impossible to remove the emotional aspect of voting just like that. Most people here (incl me) are not a stoic like Marcus Aurelius or something, and, I believe we could be sent to sadness or to cloud nine based on how many votes a post we wrote gets.

And, on a bigger scale, I think it maybe easier for one to qualitatively quantify the emotional aspect than that of the quality of a question. I think this because we feel the emotional aspect first hand. The quality aspect is too abstract to even understand, at least for me.

Given all these considerations and acknowledging that people may have emotional response to feedback given, it seems to me that one should be more cautious of upvoting and downvoting.

I think it would be best for everyone if this site could evolve into say a psychological safe space for asking and answering about mathematics rather than a sort of evolution of the fittest where only those with thickest skin can live and prosper in the system. Should a person's psychological weakness really be what prevents them from finding joy out of this site? (Rhetorical question)/ Do I need to be a "tough guy/ girl" to be able to discuss math on a public forum?

The idea (most relevant part of the post)

Let me try give the argument as succinctly as I can. It consist of two different conclusion 3. and 4.:

  1. It can be accepted that we need some sort of quality control.

  2. I believe that the default site feature of SE such as voting, close voting, deletion etc has led this site to be of much higher general "quality" than other q&a site offering similar avenues for discussing mathematics.

  3. From 1. and 2., we can conclude that the SE system and the natural behavior it induce is most likely beneficial for the site on a gross scale. Hold this thought now.

  1. We want this site to be rich in great mathematical content.

  2. Most of us may also agree that quality outputted by a single individual on this site is related to a whole lot of micro phenomena including their own human condition (emotional state etc).

  3. One may also accept that if an individual poster takes better small scale decision such as formatting their post, researching etc then their post will be better.

  4. Injection of my personal belief: I believe some macro/ micro behaviors/ responses of the community is not conducive to 7., 6. ,5. and hence 4.

Clarifying terms in the argument and further considerations

I hold a belief that people carefully observing and thinking about things which happen on the site would know exactly what I mean by certain words, but to make sure we are all on same page, I will say everything explicitly.

Now, what are these micro behaviors I mention? For instance downvoting, leaving rude comments, not adjusting the talk to OP's level etc, may lead to detoriation of 5. and hence make it unlikely for 6, ultimately leading to less chance that 4. is achieved.

Let's be real here, it is absolutely unclear to me that downvoting will have any significant chance in a 6. in a way that it induces 4. or is the best way to do so. Before I get arguments that this is wrong because of 3., let me add that we only that 3. is true on a gross scale. We don't know if the individual action of such voting behavior is what generated the higher success of the site for 4..

I further think, the likeliness for someone to output something logically or mathematically great is positively related (on average) to how they feel emotionally in the long term. It maybe that in particular instance a single person posts a great question in a negative emotional state, and in another case, a bad on in a positive one, but, on an average, I think a happier person and people would provide more value in the long term.

Ultimately, the main conclusion that I make for myself from the reason given above is that inducing positive behavior and hence positive change for the site is nuanced, and can't be captured by the plain "vote up what u feel is right, vote down what u feel is wrong" attitude apply by each person individually. It is more complicated than it is, and should be really thought about more before applying.

I believe practicing a higher element of mindfulness with how we interact with others and what effect our words may have on them would lead to a higher chance of 4. happening.

Should we treat people with extra care?

Actually yeah. Are we here to make a site which will bring out the greatest aspect of the human mind like thinking etc? Or again put a person on defensive by triggering their flight or fight response?

I mean if your goal is to discuss in mathematics in an environment which may seem like a mental jungle where many lions and snakes are running about, then yeah, pretty much everything I said is irrelevant for you, but, if you say 4. is the goal, then I think it is not difficult easy to conclude that keeping it as a jungle is not the best way.

Does there exist an element of dishonesty in practicing the ideas I said above?

I believe there is really not. The view point I take is that, while all these facilities are provided by SE, the actual practice of it in current ways would be not what best causes 4.. I don't think it is far fetched to say that many people were satisfied SE's default policy from the start, otherwise we wouldn't have EOQS or have to edit the rules any more on top of the default ones.

Even if it is dishonesty, I consider it to be dishonesty from the standpoint of honesty. There is no particular value to be gained in 4. from honest.

Being principled is the way of life for some , but I personally feel we should re think in each scenario how much value the application of principle would be useful before actually applying the principle.


Rethink voting and the micro behaviors we have to each other as we use the site!

Please add in the answers particular suggestion that you wish the community would adopt;.

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    $\begingroup$ Is it fair to say the question is "should we pull punches by not downvoting if we think the recipient would react negatively?" Perhaps I am not picking up on something more subtle, and I don't want to misunderstand. $\endgroup$
    – rschwieb
    Jun 15, 2022 at 18:09
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    $\begingroup$ It is a more holistic issue, I am considering "what is a vote?" , "what are the consequences of voting in certain ways?" etc. The ultimate concrete thing I mentioned is pretty much that, but it goes much more deeper than that. Essentially it is a critic on how people consider voting and basis of common belief is to a large degree flawed. $\endgroup$ Jun 15, 2022 at 18:13
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    $\begingroup$ But, in my personal opinion, acknowledging that vote has a emotional reaction on the person receiving the vote and on a large scale that bad voting practices will lead to a worse site later on , that itself is a big step $\endgroup$ Jun 15, 2022 at 18:14
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    $\begingroup$ @EthakkaappamwithChai Essentially it is a critic on how people consider voting and basis of common belief is to a large degree flawed. I feel like this is overly generic and unaddressable as a question. However, I think the practice of downvoting and its relation to emotional reactions is addressable. That's why i asked. It is at least directly related to ("what are the consequences of voting") $\endgroup$
    – rschwieb
    Jun 15, 2022 at 18:16
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    $\begingroup$ IF you are to say generic/ too broad, most questions on meta are such. The questions don't have a formulaic precise answer imo. It's more like "approximately this" type answer everytime. I am not here to make a mathematical argument , but rather a plead for people to think more about voting. There is no single correct answer, each person has their right of vote and close etc, and hence, the ultimate reaction of diff people to diff scenario can be entirely different. I am simply asking that this thing be talked ab $\endgroup$ Jun 15, 2022 at 18:18
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    $\begingroup$ @EthakkaappamwithChai Then it sounds OK if I provide an answer that is focussed only on aspects that I think can be addressed. I guess that's what discussion posts are for... $\endgroup$
    – rschwieb
    Jun 15, 2022 at 18:19
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, that would be fine. I am mainly looking for additional input and people reading what I say and maybe thinking about it for a bit @rschwieb $\endgroup$ Jun 15, 2022 at 18:19
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    $\begingroup$ Are you saying upvoting $\equiv$ "being helpful or necessary to make people feel good"? There are many ways to be helpful, and kind, and also honest, when downvoting. Are you asking people to upvote posts they think are poor? ... to ensure they don't hurt another's feelings, Ethakka? That is essentially asking people to be dishonest?! $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jun 15, 2022 at 19:21
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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to re-open because "opinion-based" is not a valid reason to close on meta. $\endgroup$ Jun 16, 2022 at 6:29
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    $\begingroup$ I agree that "opinion-based" is not a valid reason to close on meta. I think "incoherence" would be a much better reason for closing this question. $\endgroup$ Jun 16, 2022 at 7:45
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    $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson it is again unclear to me , and perhaps the totality of people who upvoted this post how exactly it is incoherent. Please explain in detail either as a comment or an answer the issue with my post, I would have no issue of accepting that I am wrong and changing my ideas. $\endgroup$ Jun 16, 2022 at 12:36
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    $\begingroup$ I don't know whether you are wrong. I don't know what your ideas are. I gave up reading halfway through. I just couldn't make head nor tail of what you were trying to say. That's what "incoherent" means. $\endgroup$ Jun 16, 2022 at 13:16
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    $\begingroup$ A bit of advice regarding comments: if more than a third of the comments are being posted by a single user, or if a user is repeatedly posting several comments in a row, then that user is almost certainly dominating the conversation. Similarly, if the comment thread looks like a back and forth between A and B, then both A and B are dominating the thread. Please try to avoid this. If you discover that you are dominating the thread, please take a step back and leave the thread alone for a day or two (or take it to chat). $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jun 16, 2022 at 21:05
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    $\begingroup$ Appreciate you handling my comment flags, @Xander. One user dominated the comment thread. The OP's comments you left are still > one third the comments you chose to save: 6/15. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jun 16, 2022 at 22:12
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    $\begingroup$ @EthakkaappamwithChai It applies equally to everyone. If comments are too limited take it to chat. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Jun 16, 2022 at 22:29

1 Answer 1


I'd like to write about just one concrete point raised regarding consequences of downvoting: should we pull punches if we think the recipient would react negatively?

I don't think so

It is a good intention of course but consider the following.

The post mentions users who take downvotes personally, who apparently suffer as a result of receiving downvotes. This is probably a not-uncommon problem in our day of rampant social media. (It mentions upvoting too, but I think it's not of concern here.)

I think that what underlies this suggestion is the assumption that these users can't change, or shouldn't have to change, and that we should accomodate them.

I'd like to challenge that assumption here.

Keep in mind the advertised use for the downvote button is "This does not show research effort: it is unclear or not useful." The downvote button is more likely to be used to convey such sentiments than a full comment because well there are thousands of posts every day and fingers get tired. The downvote button facilitates feedback.

The main drawbacks to pulling punches on downvotes are

  1. It's dishonest, given the advertised purpose above. The poster needs to know if there's a problem.
  2. Considering when to pull punches is a guessing game. Casting a downvote would ideally be done with something like a rubric, not a guessing game.
  3. It does the user a disservice by signaling that it's OK to derive self-worth from something valueless like these votes. I don't know for sure but I should think a mental health expert would say that anguish experienced for this reason is a problem and that steps should be taken to rehabilitate the sufferer, rather than cater to the problem.

I don't think someone needs a thick skin to use this site any more than one needs a thick skin to look at their letter grade on a book report.

Now, does this mean that empathy plays no role at all?

No, of course it does. We can and do regulate other behavior so as to respect users emotions. That is the purpose of requiring comments to be civil and constructive, and encouraging engagement and politeness. This is important in comments because language impacts human relations to a much higher degree than just the net vote count.

Some users go out of their way to encourage users who get downvotes, even if they themselves contributed a downvote or even a closure vote. This kind of support is healthy, and helps build users up even if the user's first attempt did not succeed.

An idea?

It's almost as if we need two voting dimensions: an "I like/dislike this question" vote and a "quality" vote. Then voters could feel free to intermingle the two dimensions as they saw fit, and maybe users wouldn't conflate criticisms with dislike as much as they do now.

Not likely to happen but I figured I'd mention it.

  • $\begingroup$ Can we design some kind of rubric for voting? Or is that a bad idea? $\endgroup$
    – user905694
    Jun 15, 2022 at 20:07
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    $\begingroup$ @CarefreeXplorer It couldn't hurt... the description on the button is already the beginnings of one. The problem is there are only three possible scores one can assign, and rubric's usually have granularity... $\endgroup$
    – rschwieb
    Jun 15, 2022 at 20:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Carefree rubrics are guidelines. Such guidelines already exist, albeit dispersed over years of posts on meta. Who is going to enforce them? Mod's don't or won't, for some of us who suffer serial downvotes. Following rubrics or guidelines is possible for those of us who are sincere and on the up and up. But some of the most vocal complainers about downvotes on meta target others with downvotes and deletions. A false dichotomy has run rampant in meta for months now. Change can only happen if they acknowledge being part of the problem of abuse of users, as much as those they hate. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jun 15, 2022 at 21:21
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think a rubric is a bad idea, @CarefreeXplorer. The biggest challenge is encouraging all users, new, not so new, and long term users to accept it. My comment immediately above, is not directed at you. I responded because you brought up a good point. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jun 15, 2022 at 21:24
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    $\begingroup$ I doubt 3. is really valid. I know long term users who have more than thousand of upvote who still get upset at votes. There are people who have even written on the profile that most of the site issue is due to votes. To deny the emotional aspect of vote is just like saying "I don't have the tools to measure it, so it is not there". It would be like surrendering and saying that if we don't have a way of measuring distance, then the idea of length doesn't exist. $\endgroup$ Jun 15, 2022 at 22:38
  • $\begingroup$ Now if I haven't given a prescription for measurement, there is a feeling that less objectivity is there and a lot of hand waving is done, but, if one thinks about it the things which one accepts as meaningful measurement of quality eg: the vote itself, then we see there is even less basis for it being a valid form to discern quality from non quality. $\endgroup$ Jun 15, 2022 at 22:43
  • $\begingroup$ So, it feels weird to me that a conceptually clearer thing which doens't have a direct measurement (emotional effects) is seen on less of a ground than an abstract/ conceptually unclear thing which does have a measurement method (voting as a whole) $\endgroup$ Jun 15, 2022 at 22:43
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    $\begingroup$ This site is mathematics.se. See the purpose of the site, Ethakka. It is not called "make me feel good by pretending, and voting up, so it doesn't hurt my feelings. What is valid is that we ask feedback to be constructive, not demeaning. People learn from mistakes, and pointing them out may be constructively done. No highschool nor college would demand instructors to award good grades for the emotional health of its students, would they? $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Jun 15, 2022 at 23:12
  • $\begingroup$ I thought about this answer, and I am starting to think maybe the last part is a significant one. Do people have higher emotional investment when they get a mixed reaction than if they have a polarized one? Would it be actually better to have some people support while some people 'anti supports' the person by actions possible in SE for best behaviour change? $\endgroup$ Jun 16, 2022 at 1:42
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    $\begingroup$ I think users emotional investment is extremely personal and none of our business. They have the responsibility for it. $\endgroup$
    – rschwieb
    Jun 16, 2022 at 13:43
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    $\begingroup$ I mean that is like say poor people are responsible for being poor or people. It has an element of truth, but, at the same time, there is also the truth that if many peopel are becoming poor like that in mass, the economy itself is screwed up. While emotions are are a person's own responsibility, that doesn't mean it should be allowed for the system to be a toxic environment which can throw any type of garbage at them. $\endgroup$ Jun 17, 2022 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ @EthakkaappamwithChai It is not at all "like poor people are responsible for being poor." Being poor depends largely on external factors. One's anxiety issues (under circumstances where most people would not have them) are entirely internal factors. If you want to make analogies, fine, but do not just pick the first one you can think of to try to trigger an emotional response. We don't need that kind of rhetoric here. $\endgroup$
    – rschwieb
    Jun 17, 2022 at 17:19
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    $\begingroup$ @EthakkaappamwithChai that doesn't mean it should be allowed for the system to be a toxic environment which can throw any type of garbage at them. Nobody disagrees with you on this. They disagree with your assessment that this is currently the case. I think I'll be taking a break now. $\endgroup$
    – rschwieb
    Jun 17, 2022 at 17:23
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    $\begingroup$ @EthakkaappamwithChai I read your surplus of upvotes as casual readers glomming onto your appeal to emotion. You'll also notice your post has more downvotes than mine. My takeaway is that reactions are mixed. Perhaps you, like some of the theoretical posters we have discussed, are too concerned with the net number. $\endgroup$
    – rschwieb
    Jun 20, 2022 at 19:14
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    $\begingroup$ @EthakkaappamwithChai We ALL share treating users with respect and valuing their concerns. It is your assumption that downvotes are "disrespectful" somehow which is not shared by everyone. Don't pretend you are the lord of some moral high ground that you aren't, sneaking your assumptions in under your coattails. $\endgroup$
    – rschwieb
    Jun 20, 2022 at 19:32

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