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I know this is hard to answer since, to the extent that anyone does this, they likely don't do it consciously. In the spirit of Richard Wiseman and Quirkology I just wondered what were people's thoughts on it.

Please bear in mind that that's me in the picture, and if you down-vote this, that'll be a real person hurtin', not some abstract symbol.

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it's always a real person, even if its hidden behind an icon. – Ólafur Waage Oct 7 '09 at 9:15
I understand that :-) – Ralph Lavelle Oct 7 '09 at 9:27
Spammers and the clueless are people too. They should be downovted like normal people. Harder even. – random Oct 7 '09 at 9:31
This looks like a job for the data dump! Track the number of downvotes against users, and then divide users into groups based on the contents of their avatars. You probably wouldn't want to do it with every user. Maybe every 50th or 100th or 1000th user would do. The problem is there will be a bias toward new users with downvotes, since new users never have avatars and ask really, really terrible questions most of the time. That said, -1 for being ugly. – JSONBog Oct 7 '09 at 12:27
Ha ha! I reckon I'm -2 ugly, so that's a let-off – Ralph Lavelle Oct 7 '09 at 12:36
@Ralph: I can mark you as offensive, too, for the extra -1. – JSONBog Oct 7 '09 at 12:48
Hmmm...maybe when I have a few more rep points, so I can afford it. I'm teetering on the cusp of extinction here – Ralph Lavelle Oct 7 '09 at 12:51
You should have thought of that before you decided to be so damned ugly! – JSONBog Oct 7 '09 at 12:58
You want me so bad – Ralph Lavelle Oct 7 '09 at 13:25
Just don't down-vote ponies! – Tom Hawtin - tackline Oct 7 '09 at 21:29
@ (We|Ouè)lbo[u_]?g(ue)? - a) It's bad when I have to use a regular expression to match the names you've used in the last month. b) It seems pretty simple to filter out users with 1, 9, 11, or other similarly low reputations. Depending on how detailed the dump is, you might even be able to filter out people with 400 questions and 2 answers. – Super Long Names are Hilarious Oct 8 '09 at 1:56
@Chris - now (s)he's 'Susan'. I wish I was that interesting – Ralph Lavelle Oct 9 '09 at 0:18
@Ralph - I now have a file in my home directory that I will maintain as The Official Regex To Determine If A Username Is Welbog™. It currently contains (We|Ouè)lbo[u_]?g(ue)?|Susan – Super Long Names are Hilarious Oct 9 '09 at 5:47

12 Answers 12

up vote 3 down vote accepted

When this happens, it happens subliminally. That is, I don't think anyone is deliberately not down-voting others who have a photograph of a friendly, smiling human being as their avatar. But that doesn't mean the effect is not there.

You'd have to actually examine voting patterns on a per-user basis, and for that you'd need access to the (actual) DB. Just asking people without access to the real data won't get you real answers, you'll just get everyone saying "No, that doesn't influence me", because they are not aware of the influence.

Well, except those who claim to freely downvote uggos. But that's another matter entirely.

This is similar to the way that people claim they aren't influenced by advertisements, when in fact they almost certainly are (ask Alex Papadimoulis!).

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I'm sure that most people would deny any bias, like what type of gravatar someone uses, in their dealings with that person, like you say. But I'm pretty confident that many people here would be self-reflective enough to be interested in speculating, just for the sake of a discussion, about it. Good point about the "ads don't affect me", too. – Ralph Lavelle Oct 7 '09 at 21:48

Personally, I am not less likely. I downvote very rarely (on SO) and when I do it's subjectively based on the content

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We should downvote more often ugly persons :} – Ladybug Killer Oct 7 '09 at 9:16
Then I'd be screwed. – Ólafur Waage Oct 7 '09 at 9:18
You can outweigh this by laughing like a Viking ;) – Ladybug Killer Oct 7 '09 at 9:20
Har har har har ! – Ólafur Waage Oct 7 '09 at 9:20
It works, Ólafur :) – Ladybug Killer Oct 7 '09 at 9:23
Access denied, TheTXI. – Ladybug Killer Oct 7 '09 at 10:01
@TheTXI link fail! – Ólafur Waage Oct 7 '09 at 10:14
"when I do it's purely based on the content" - how could you know that? – Ralph Lavelle Oct 7 '09 at 11:27
Instinct, i don't have the time to accurately measure each vote :) – Ólafur Waage Oct 7 '09 at 11:35
I'm with Ralph on this one. Humans are not very good at separating the influences of their decisions. – Noldorin Oct 7 '09 at 14:15
Only a true answer would come after a research based on this subject. So my instinct and memory of past downvotes are influencing this answer. – Ólafur Waage Oct 7 '09 at 14:37
Hence my skepticism of your "purely" remark – Ralph Lavelle Oct 7 '09 at 21:35
Fixed, i hope. :) – Ólafur Waage Oct 7 '09 at 23:42
Quiet you or ill pillage your village! – Ólafur Waage Oct 8 '09 at 9:14

There are avatars in this site!?

I didn't know, I use lynx.

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So that's a lynx kitten. Interesting! – Ladybug Killer Oct 7 '09 at 11:18
+1 for lynx usage. – Chris Huang-Leaver Oct 7 '09 at 14:35
+1 for lynx, +1 for fun, +1 for cute avatar – DVK Oct 7 '09 at 15:10

I will admit, I am more likely to downvote or vote to close and/or delete a bad question posted by someone whose avatar is one of the defauls and whose name contains leet-speak or any variations of the words hacker, lord, king etc.

The alternative, of course, is not to ignore bad posts by others. However, I do try harder to see if the post can be improved before voting to dismiss. This is especially true if the poster seems to be using his/her real name.

I know ... I know ... You can be anyone you want to be on the web. bU7, 1 9U355 1 |-|4\/3 4 50Ph7 5P07 Ph0R p30PL3 \/\/|-|0 90 7|-|3 3><7R4 /\/\1L3 70 4PP34R L1|<3 4 r39UL4R |-|U/\/\4|\| b31|\|9 r47|-|3R 7|-|4|\| 50/\/\3 UB3R-|-|4><0R3R. (Translation: But, I guess I have a soft spot for people who go the extra mile to appear like a regular human being rather than some uber-hacker. ;-)

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-1 for the "random numbers, letters and symbols" at the end – a_m0d Oct 7 '09 at 14:34
Those are not random numbers. I converted my last sentence into l33t-speak. Based on your kewl id and avatar, I would have thought it would make sense to you. – Sinan Ünür Oct 7 '09 at 14:42
I'd down-vote you for 3l313 speak, but your pic's so darn adorable! – DVK Oct 7 '09 at 15:08
@DVK Thank you. I had not heard that in a long time. – Sinan Ünür Oct 7 '09 at 15:14
@Sinan - I'm just buttering you up so you vote me up on SO :) – DVK Oct 7 '09 at 15:59
@DVK I know, I know ;-) I was just going along with it. Anyway, I think I have upvoted most of your answers so far. – Sinan Ünür Oct 7 '09 at 17:52

I really have garnered votes based purely on the contents of my avatar!

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Cats are the real upvote harvesters. – perbert Oct 7 '09 at 15:15
+1 for the kitten :) – perbert Oct 7 '09 at 15:16
For what it's worth, your answer was only a minute (probably less) later and was by far the most complete of those three. And let's not forget how hard it is to convey sarcasm and humor over the internets. – Super Long Names are Hilarious Oct 8 '09 at 1:32
But +1 for the kitten. – Super Long Names are Hilarious Oct 8 '09 at 1:33

Hmm... Interesting question. I do not make a difference between Photos and other Avatars, but for some reason I really dislike the default Identicon (the funky pattern generated from an IP Address). I don't know if it really influences me when downvoting (I'm sure it's no difference when upvoting as I look at the content rather than the icon), but for some reason I take people with Gravatars more serious.

psychology is weird :)

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Ah, you are downvoting me all the time! Just because of my ugly pinkish gravatar. Shame on you! – Ladybug Killer Oct 7 '09 at 9:57
It's based on the email, but i get your point :) – Ólafur Waage Oct 7 '09 at 10:15
"I take people with Gravatars more serious" - I think I might too, and I certainly take high-rep people more seriously, which adds up to some definite favouritism on my behalf, when what matters is only ever the quality of the question, or answer. Oh well, only human – Ralph Lavelle Oct 7 '09 at 11:31
@Michael Stum: so my little pussy cat is serious now? – perbert Oct 7 '09 at 12:46
Yes it is :) As said, it's just some sort of weird subconscious conscious thing that makes me prefer users with an Avatar. Dunno if I'm the only one as it's not open antipathy, just something that "just happens" – Michael Stum Oct 7 '09 at 14:17
@Michael Stum: I wonder if I'd get more upvotes if my gravatar were an Evony ad. – perbert Oct 7 '09 at 15:13
That just made me laugh hard :-D – Michael Stum Oct 7 '09 at 15:20
@Ralph and @Michael - What about someone like me, who has almost 10K rep on SO but still uses the default gravatar? Does no gravatar really discourage you compared to my rep and (hopefully) good answer? – Super Long Names are Hilarious Oct 8 '09 at 2:24
Maybe you would have 11k rep if you had a personalised gravatar. Or 9k. Point is, it's impossible to know without a controlled experiment, but I don't think it makes NO difference whatsoever, and it's interesting to speculate about it and see what people think. – Ralph Lavelle Oct 8 '09 at 3:34

Real-looking picture, abstract symbol, both are good - I'm no more likely to downvote one than the other.

Cartoon character avatars OTOH, creep me out. Especially the "character creator" ones, unholy patchworks of pre-drawn "pieces" combined into what may or may not vaguely resemble a caricature of the person themselves. They all end up looking kinda the same. Or exactly the same. I probably down-vote them more often just out of frustration.

Also, anyone whose display name has spaces in it. Pretentious bastards.

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spacesareevildontyouthink? – perbert Oct 7 '09 at 16:59
Does my avatar creep you out? – waffles Oct 7 '09 at 23:54
Oh yeah. On top of everything else, the eyes follow me around the room... – Shog9 Oct 8 '09 at 0:01
I must add sunglasses to it then :p – waffles Oct 8 '09 at 0:17
What's wrong with my name? – Super Long Names are Hilarious Oct 8 '09 at 1:29
-1 for having a number in your display name. – mmyers Oct 8 '09 at 17:26
Flagged for explaining your down-vote. – Shog9 Oct 8 '09 at 17:41
+1 for explaining the flagging of the explanation of the downvote. – mmyers Oct 8 '09 at 18:31

I'd be far more interested in seeing if women get more + or - votes than men, even if their questions are horribly bad.

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Your name and avatar are fairly androgynous... If you post a "female-sounding" question does it get more up-votes than a "male-sounding" question on the same topic? – Shog9 Oct 8 '09 at 0:03
That's kinda what I'm getting at in my question. Or older, more distinguished types (if there are any). The gravatars are small, sure, but you could easily tell if it was an attractive woman, or a venerable old fart you were dealing with. IF you thought they were authentic, of course – Ralph Lavelle Oct 8 '09 at 0:42
I should go to superuser and ask "How do I make my Internet Explorer pink?" – Mark Henderson Oct 8 '09 at 1:29

That's why my gravatar is a nice, rendered woman. :-) If people dislike my answers, I hope the gravatar makes them rethink their downvote.

Yeah, I'm a guy. The gravatar just displays one of my hobbies: rendering women...

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That's how it is called today: rendering... – Ladybug Killer Oct 7 '09 at 9:22
it used to be called rogering. And occasionally smithering. – Jeff Atwood Oct 7 '09 at 9:29
Really, Jeff? Smithering? You use such an innocent name to describe this? tststs – Ladybug Killer Oct 7 '09 at 9:34
Make those vertices work for you! – Ólafur Waage Oct 7 '09 at 9:36
You turn women into tallow in your spare time? – Rich Seller Oct 7 '09 at 12:05
@Alex: You can't really tell that it's a woman in the tiny icon size. It kind of looks like a guy in a leisure suit holding a drink and a handgun at that resolution. – ベレアー アダム Oct 7 '09 at 12:38
@Adam, in my profile you can see a bigger version. ;-) @Rich, it's one way how to use women, yes. But it's not the rendering I'm talking about. (Mine is friendlier towards women.) @everyone, at least I can understand the rendered women. Real women are far to illogical. Any guy who can understand real women must be a woman himself... ;-) – Wim ten Brink Oct 8 '09 at 7:23

I try not to upvote/downvote a person but a question or an answer. Nevertheless if I get influenced somehow, this is more by rep score than by gravatar.

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I don't have a gravatar, and I'm almost to 10K on SO. Some of my earlier answers might have received fewer upvotes because I had low reputation and no gravatar (good indication of an impermanent newbie) and gave a few sub-par answers, but it hasn't really hindered me. I'm no Jon Skeet, but that's because I don't do C#.

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And I assume that all you people who aren't upvoting me are doing so because of my default gravatar. Which makes anyone who doesn't upvote me biased and irrational and a terrible human being. – Super Long Names are Hilarious Oct 8 '09 at 2:27
As biased and irrational as someone is who can't concede that it might make some small difference in some cases? :-P – Ralph Lavelle Oct 8 '09 at 3:36
I didn't say it might make a small difference in someone's choice, just that it shouldn't. – Super Long Names are Hilarious Oct 8 '09 at 4:12
The fact that you use your real name makes a difference, IMHO. – Ether Oct 8 '09 at 19:00

There's a few interesting combinations of avatars/usernames showing up in this thread:

  • real names
  • real photographs
  • cute photographs/drawings
  • fake names

I use a pseudonym for a bit of privacy, but my username is a common nickname that anyone who has worked with me would instantly recognize. My avatar is a photograph I took myself and also recognizable as a former housemate that some of my (former) coworkers have met. So I'm traceable back to the "real me", but still somewhat hidden behind a mask...

Don't downvote me, I'm adorable! :)

And I'm surprised that TheTXI hasn't weighed in yet! (ponies!)

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