I do not want to offend anybody; I just figured out that some Stack Overflow characteristics are similar to gambling.
I read an interview once with a psychologist explaining why people lose their salaries and ruin their lives with slot machines. She said that the main reason is that unpredictable rewards form addiction. When you play you never know if you will win. And this unpredictability makes it so attractive.
I recently read another interview with a documentary writer that described how old people are robbed in "excursion tours". The bus stops at an anonymous small village, and they are moved to a pub for many hours until they buy crap for thousands of dollars. They know it, they experienced it, though they attend it again and again. And she described the organizer's psychological tricks including "prizes". Attendants usually get some small prize, but not everybody or every time. The film showed how this uncertainty influences people.
I can feel some addiction and withdrawal symptoms as well. It is tempting to build my reputation. But answering is like a contest – who will be faster? Who will write a better answer? But there is no straight rule that your work will be rewarded. The OP may leave his question without acceptance, he may choose the faster reply, the longer reply, the better answer, or even later AND worse answers. Or you may spend a lot of time chatting with him to identify his problem, but he accepts a similar answer from somebody else.
When such injustice happens, it makes me find another question that I am able to answer. The next time I must be successful. See? It is the same as in gambling – it is hard to stop when you are losing. I think that if all answers were automatically awarded, then SO would not be so attractive (or addictive).
What do you think?
There might be one thing to improve in SO. People shall upvote good answers that were not awarded yet, so their authors will know that their work was not useless, and somebody appreciated it.