Online interaction provides an interesting avenue for experiment and experience. People are able to hide or fabricate their personal details including age, sex, and appearance. For the purposes of this question I am using the term "personal identifiers" as any indication of a person's age, sex, name, race, place of residence, etc*

As a user here, I have experimented with showing my real name, changing my user name; having a photo of myself as a kangaroo, and whether or not to display my age, provide my real age, or at one point used an age of 93 years. I have also played with whether or not to show my country (the kangaroo reveals I am at ease with this).

I am most active on Stack Overflow, which is a programming site, and my belief is that programming is a male dominated field. So when I address a user, with no personal identifiers, I find myself assuming that they are male. I have noticed that when people assume I am of the opposite sex (to what I am, not what they are!), I respond differently.

This has led me to think about the value of maintaining a certain anonymity and which aspects of one's identity are best revealed in various online settings.


  • What information is there about perceived personal identifiers and how this affects people's online behaviour?
  • What information is there regarding a person's reaction when they know they are being treated as if they are a person with different identifiers?
  • $\begingroup$ People exploit this in the field of competitive video gaming, where an offensive (A**LDominator), humorous (ShootinPutin2012) or girly (FluffyKitty) names are used to deceive or frustrate an opponent. Being repeatedly defeated by these names would feel more frustrating than by something like (mike1274) $\endgroup$ – Alex Stone Dec 5 '14 at 0:46

Not an expert but here would be my suggestions:

We may play up to an expected persona for acceptance or not to offend the person who got it wrong. Like when people sometimes get our name wrong and we don't correct them initially as we don't want to offend or to save us embarrassment.

If my handle was "car expert" and you then replied with something technical that I couldn't grasp I may continue my persona of being an expert in cars to save myself embarrassment (particularly if I thought I could reasonably get away with it).

We may also believe that continuing someone's incorrect judgement may get us what we want quicker. For example if a male car mechanic naively assumes that a woman doesn't know anything about cars and he enthusiastically shows his superiority in car repairs, she may play up to this and use his enthusiasm at asserting technical superiority / authority a means to get her car fixed quicker or have other parts of it fixed that may normally cost extra. Even if said woman actually was a engine designer for a car company.

We rely on stereotypes sometimes as a cognitive short-cut. If I assume from a profile of a kangaroo and the name skippy that you are fun / easy going / informal then it saves me having to bother to read your post in detail and analyse the text to make that inference.

  • $\begingroup$ This has the beginnings of a good answer--can you add some references to peer-reviewed work on this? That would give our kangaroo a place to go for further reading. $\endgroup$ – Krysta Nov 4 '14 at 13:42

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