Giving advice against all odds

In our 3+ years of running Sooth, we’ve seen a consistent preference for giving advice over getting. People tend to give advice six times more than they seek advice. We see this supported by qualitative data on how much people love giving advice in the community. This preference is then further emphasized in the context of the typical assimilation period we see for new users, lovingly referred to as “voyeur before giver(rr) before asker(rr).” That is, it takes a while for someone to muster up the courage to ask advice. They’re far more likely to give before they get.

In sum, people give more, give sooner, and more freely solicit stories about the joy of giving. With all these data on how much people appear to love giving advice, we nearly lost sight of the reasons why, in real life, advice doesn’t flow freely. There are many reasons for this, of course, but in sum, it’s the biases, stupid (a little psychology joke in light of the election season):

“You’re not going to like this.” No one wants to be the “downer” who makes another person feel incompetent or bad. We try to minimize the bad, distance ourselves from it and emphasize the good. Early research in psychology showed us that people like ‘likers’ - people who rate things positively, whether those things are people, cities, movies and more. We like people who are positive. Based on our own experiences (in addition to research), we know that bad things tend to be stronger than good - and have more lasting effects (everything from bad scents vs. good ones to destructive vs. constructive actions in relationships). People don’t want to take responsibility for powerful bad effects on others.  

“I’m not saying you CAN’T do that…”. When we recommend a given path to someone, or discourage any given direction, people become defensive. They feel as though their freedom has been limited— it’s perceived as a threat. Early research on psychological reactance shows that people can paradoxically become motivated to restore that exact freedom. We also hate losing more than we like winning- people hate to lose license to do something far more than they like to gain permission.

"We used to hunt and gather." Humans are a cooperative species. We’re motivated, evolutionarily speaking, to maintain friendships and form coalitions. Reassurance more than criticism would be a faster path for a reputation as cooperative coalition partner. Beyond the extra effort to tell someone what to do, it’s arguably riskier to get out of our ancestral comfort zone and criticize.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of biases as to why people don't freely dole out advice (and we know, some do!). We're also not suggesting that these biases don't exist online or with anonymity. As we all know too well, it can be hard to give advice, hard to get advice - it's a complicated, albeit fascinating dynamic.

In light of the normal, human challenges and the deviance, trolling, and bullying, we see in the world, it’s reassuring to see people overcome these challenges on Sooth. Thank you for helping us allow that to happen! Thank you for giving advice against all our human oddities!