Intermittent variable reward (IVR) informs us that behavior reinforced intermittently (as opposed to consistently) is the most difficult to alter or unlearn. Intermittent rewards beat predictable rewards - this helps explain why animal training is so effective and why slot machines are so addictive. IVR has also been linked to the "stickyness" of sites like Twitter and Facebook.
It occurs to me that SO may be sucessful in part because it applies IVR in its voting, reputation, and answer prioritization model. While this helps to create a vibrant and engaged community, it may also be harmful, in that it further amplifies an environment of constant disruption and interruptions.
I'm curious what other people think about this... and about how to balance the benefits vs. harms of participating in an engaging yet addictive online community.
I'm curious about:
- How people manage impulse to constantly check, review new questions?
- How often people find themselves distracted by SO when they should be otherwise occupied?
- Has anyone experienced SO withdrawal after not visiting the site for some time?
- Has anyone been harmed in their professional or personal lives from SO "addiction"?
- How can an online site like SO continue providing value while managing the potentially negative consequences of psychological conditioning?
- Is there even an ethical obligation for sites to influence how its community chooses to interact. For example, the 200RP daily cap indirectly influences how much time community members spend answering questions (since the rep reward phases out).