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I was interested in the effects of answering questions on Stack Exchange and/or Stack Overflow. Has there been any research on this (or similar types of roles), and the effect they have upon the answerer?

Anecdote

I'm asking because I've been answering questions on Stack Overflow for a few months now, and while it's been fun helping people, I've noticed myself being less patient with people over time, growing frustrated with others more easily, despite not really wanting to feel that way, what with it being counter to the reason why I was answering questions in the first place.

I would think this was just a me problem, but I used to volunteer at a bike shed, where I saw the same phenomena in the other volunteers there, where they would become quite spiky while dealing with members of the public, so I thought there might be more to this phenomena than I first thought.

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    $\begingroup$ downvotes w/o comments are not mean. They might not be helpful to you, but they are to the community. They are an integral part of the SE model. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Sep 12, 2023 at 13:19
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    $\begingroup$ @AliceD I think this is something we're going to have to disagree on. Thank you for sharing your opinion though! Noted $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Sep 12, 2023 at 13:23
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    $\begingroup$ Having said that I, I don't see any downvotes. I find your Q interesting, because I have noticed similar things. Maybe because you see the same mistakes being made over and over again? That you don't see the individual anymore, just another client, or SE user? $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Sep 12, 2023 at 13:33
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    $\begingroup$ @AliceD it was a proactive thing. I've posted four questions on Stack Exchange websites up until this point, and all of them have been downvoted before, with no explanation. I'm autistic, so I'm not a mind reader haha. I think maybe people think the reason for their downvote is obvious but it's not obvious to me $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Sep 12, 2023 at 13:37
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    $\begingroup$ I think your question is simultaneously too narrow and too broad. Too narrow because it focuses on only StackExchange, which is a really small place in the scheme of things, and while people have certainly published about StackExchange specifically, your question is not really answerable unless someone happened to publish on this one really narrow slice of humanity. At the same time, your question is really broad: "effects of answering" could be anything. What should someone even start testing? Without narrowing this part of the question, it's hard to suggest a broadening of the other part. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Sep 12, 2023 at 15:13

1 Answer 1

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SHORT ANSWER

This phenomenon is obviously not limited to Stack Exchange, but can also happen to some professors (and teaching assistants) answering students' questions (or salesmen answering clients', or volunteers helping people in a workshop, as you describe).

I am not aware of any formal study of the phenomenon, and I would not expect one to exist (but I might be surprised!) as I think it is quite simple to explain: helpers who fail to connect with the people they help (not necessarily because they are "bad" helpers: connecting can take more energy than reasonable when helping a large volume of people in less than ideal conditions) will unconsciously feel that they help the same person over and over, and get frustrated.

The solution is to connect more deeply with each person helped (even if it means helping less people, under better conditions), and to celebrate each success as distinct of all the previous ones.

LONG ANSWER

Among academic professors, there is a running joke which, I think, puts light on the phenomenon you describe:

I have been explaining this for 20 years, and the students STILL do not understand it and commit the same mistakes again and again!

This is a joke in the sense that, even though the students change every semester, a (mediocre?) professor teaching the same material again and again without connecting personally with the students gets the (irrational) feeling to be teaching the same (group of) person(s) again and again, and gets frustrated.

The solution to such feeling, of course, is to connect with each student, customer or stack exchange user rather than to treat them as an anonymous member of an anonymous crowd. If you focus on the particular background of each individual, and try to help each of them (rather than just deciding in which category to place them in order to give them the same "pattern" answer as all others individuals in the same category), in my experience each "aha" reaction from someone who was enlightened by your answer becomes a victory shining on your day/week/month. Failing to connect with individuals, you are dealing with an infinite flow of indistinct "dummies" and will ineluctably feel frustrated.

References:

I have been teaching in various universities since 2002. I tried to think about references to justify my answer, to not much avail. I do hope that this answer, based on my experience both as a student and as a professor, will be of help to you, and that you will find back the pleasure to help fellow human beings, on Stack Exchange and everywhere else!

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