This is a situation more frequent in online conversations, where you can type many things before the other person has a chance to reply.

Perhaps cognitive load, multi-tasking ability, have something to do with it? At any rate, it does seem like the person "ignores" the other unanswered question at times.


1 Answer 1


I believe it has to do with two main factors:

1) Emotional response to one of the topics

Consider the case where a webpage or paragraph of text contains multiple topics. Each one with different emotional response from the reader:

  • Topic 1: X____|
  • Topic 2: XX___|
  • Topic 3: X____|
  • Topic 4: XXXXXXXXX
  • Topic 5: XX___|

Where the number of X's is how strong the response is. Suppose 5X's are needed to bother responding. Assuming the topics are encountered sequentially, Topic 4 will activate the strongest emotional response. Since it's also above 5X, the person may start responding, leaving topic 5 unread and un-responded to.

2) Social/technical norms of the online communication system

In many web platforms, the main means of commenting/replying is via typed text boxes, usually with minimum and maximum length limits. That's the technical norm. The lower the limit (i.e. a tweet), the less likely more than one topic will be responded to. Expectation of interruptions could also play a role. For example, in an online chat, many other emotional topics may be mentioned while typing out a long, nuanced response, potentially stopping it from being finished.

The social norms come into play when a reader observes how others have responded to the item and in what format. If others responded with short one-liners, the reader may be inclined to respond with a one-liner. If others wrote up elaborate essays as responses, perhaps the reader may do so as well.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.