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Born Hatin’: Why Some People Dislike Everything

There are "likers" and "haters." Here's what you can do about the latter group.

There’s only one way to avoid any and all criticism: say nothing and do nothing. If you aren’t coming across any critics, you’re probably not headed in the right direction. 

This doesn’t mean that progress is always met with constant friction. Any worthwhile work will elicit criticism (and it should, thoughtful input makes us better). But there is research that suggests that some critics are harsh by nature, not because of what they see in the creation they are criticizing. In other words, some people really are “haters,” or have a natural disposition to focus on flaws alone.

In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers examined predispositions towards topics that subjects knew nothing about.

Some critics are harsh by nature, not because of what they see in the creation they are criticizing.

They found a reliable trend in the responses of certain participants. Despite being asked about a myriad of unconnected topics—and asked again about new topics at a later date, to confirm they weren’t just in a bad mood—they found two abnormal groups who they classified as “likers” and “haters.” The “likers” tended to rate most things positively with zero external information, and the haters… well, you know where this is going. From the study:

So someone’s attitude toward architecture may in fact tell us something about their attitude toward health care because both attitudes would be biased by a disposition to like or dislike stimuli. 

The “dispositional attitude” of certain participants had the very real effect of influencing an opinion about things they knew nothing about. They ended up hating (or liking) things for absolutely no reason. This is incredibly important to be reminded of because it paints a very clear picture: no matter what you create, a small group of people will hate it, often without reason.

Talk to anyone with any publishing experience online and they’ll tell you: putting your work online means preparing for a slew of vitriolic, bitter comments that people would never dare say in person. The question is, why do people seem to act this way online? 

It paints a very clear picture: no matter what you create, a small group of people will hate it, often without reason.

Psychologist John Suler proposed what is perhaps the best known analysis of the phenomenon in the Online Disinhibition Effect. It lists six primary factors as to why we may treat others differently online than we do in person:

  1. You don’t know me. Anonymity protects the critics “real life” reputation and shields them from retaliation and owning their actions.
  2. You can’t see me. Face-to-face interactions tend to have more empathy because we can see the person we are engaging with. It’s hard to feel ashamed when you don’t even know who’s affected. You’re just a screen to me, not a person.
  3. See you later. I don’t have to deal with your instant response, or even wait for it! I can dump my thoughts on you and never return.
  4. It’s all in my head. Suler argues that online interactions can distort reality. I can make up whatever attributes about you that I want, justifying my actions.
  5. It’s just a game. The overused response of critics who do sometimes get called out: “It’s just the Internet, man!”
  6. Your rules don’t apply here. This is the internet, where closing out a live chat isn’t rude, despite the fact that leaving in the middle of a conversation would be rude in real life. 

Understanding criticism matters if you ever want to be able to create and sleep soundly at night. This is because criticism can take it’s toll on people who haven’t developed a thick skin, or who don’t yet recognize that even great works are going to have critics. 

Professor Roy F. Baumeister explored this topic on the basis of emotions in is his paper Bad is Stronger Than Good. He found that generally speaking, bad emotions, impressions, and feedback are “quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones.” In other words, bitter comments stick with us and are often much harder to forget than praise. The key is to recognize this natural imbalance, and take care to remember the constructive comments.

Clifford Nass, a professor at Stanford University and author of The Man Who Lies to His Laptop, posits that negative emotions hang around because they are more likely to be dwelled upon:

Negative emotions generally involve more thinking, and the information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones. Thus, we tend to ruminate more about unpleasant events — and use stronger words to describe them — than happy ones.

Negative thoughts lead to the development of impostor syndrome, where even veteran craftsman find themselves thinking, “I’m not really good enough, people are going to find out I’m a total fraud.”


You can’t chalk up every negative comment to “people hatin’ on you,” but you also can’t let yourself succumb to the fear of getting your ego bruised. It’s going to happen. It’s your job to understand when to listen to a real critique. It’s easy to be a critic. There’s no backlash, there’s no risk. But creating? That takes guts.

How about you?

Did you have a critic who could never be pleased? How did you handle it?

Comments (32)
  • SolitaireRose

    I also think that a part of it may be that you can get more jokes out of being negative than being positive, and that a lot of on-line comments are people letting out their inner class clown. It is hard to find good, accurate criticism of work on-line because it’s funnier to slag on something than to point out the good and bad and see a work as whole.
    For the people who just aren’t happy with what I make no matter what,
    they aren’t my audience. Feedback in podcasting is like gold, and when I get it, I tend to respond quickly to it as long as it applies.

    As I do a comic book and comic book-related media podcast, I see a LOT of instant punditry that goes negative, almost searching for a way to justify that feeling. Amazing Spider-Man 2 has made over half a billion dollars, but if you read on-line comic book news sites, it’s a huge failure and a massive disappointment at the box office. I think a lot of on-line commentary is the same way: People take what they feel and assume that EVERYONE feels the same way, and anyone who doesn’t is wrong.

    As for me, I fall back on what the creators of Mystery Science Theater 3000 said about their work:

    Not everyone will get it, but the right people will. If you are met with endless negativity, maybe you haven’t found the right people.

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  • Word Branch Publishing

    I own an independent publishing company, and I see this so often. It can be very damaging to fledgling authors who take every comment to heart. Part of being a pro is being able to take editing and criticism, but some of the comments my writers get in online reviews are far from being constructive or even very honest. Many are very clearly meant to be destructive, and that is the only end result. I encourage our writers to answer the particularly vicious comments personally, being polite and honest. It is amazing how a mean reviewer reacts to a direct comment from the author. The invisible barrier that shields the ‘hater’ is broken down, and most of the time his or her attitude changes pretty quickly. Occasionally, I will tell one of these people that I am sorry they didn’t like the book or felt they were mislead, and I am more than happy to refund their money. I’ve never had a person take me up on it.

    • marianovon

      I admit: I belong to this group of people. The reason was slightly touched in the article. I actually speak with my criticism to other customers, not to the creator, at least I believe they don’t care. I try hard to not simply spill the venom of hate but even in the most extreme cases (when I came across a product which is mainly rubbish) emphasize the good points, too, which always exist. Generally my negative criticisms come out when I have the impression that the shoddy product was made by a company which doesn’t really care about their customers and see them as sheep.

      • notme

        any publicity is good publicity

  • Say That to My Face? | Etudes

    […] A common concern of Digital Citizenship and online bullying is that many people view the “culture of the Internet” as one riddled with negativity and behavior that’s anti-social (if not outright sociopathic). The trolls and “lowest-common-denominator” debates that run below your favorite news site or online magazine scare away many teachers from using online publishing, forums or discussion boards in class. Why is it that behavior norms are so different online? An interesting structure came through this morning from 99U: “Born Hatin’: Why Some People Dislike Everything.” […]

  • Jay R.

    This is a fantastic article! Comes at a good time as well. I’m a music artist and this has been a topic that i’ve been meaning to write about for quite sometime now. Thanks for sharing.

  • Joe Nicklo

    I HATE THIS ARTICLE!!!!!!111!

    • João Rocha

      I believe your officially a hater mate. Regards.

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  • Patrick

    Did I miss it? I did skim parts of the article. Free speech becomes easier with anonymity. Free speech allows us to act like trolls.

  • abhishek

    I often have some phases where i have dislikes for almost everything and often i find positivity in almost everything. i dont realise but this mostly happens based on my mood. have you ever dealt with any such circumstances?

  • johnTnash

    There’s a famous quote by Theodore Roosevelt that I have come to embrace.

    “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

    • miranda

      Thanks for sharing this quote!

  • kivenaberham

    i can be categorized as a “hater” but the facts is i am a realist or as i see it a anti bullshit artist or anti propagandist. i give credit where credit is due. but if you have no understanding of history of art /artist and their techniques, then the word “poser” or “wanna be” is not in your vocabulary. again i appreciate unique talent but more often then not the bandwagon is full of amateurs and poser who wanna be someone else but clam to be an original.

  • miranda

    What about people that do LOVE just a few very exceptional things? They are ‘haters’ of most things, but LOVE very few worthy things. Are they haters? Or just people with very high standards? Are people with high standards haters? What if the critic also creates? Can someone be a hater-critic and a creator? What if your client is a “hater” but if you work hard enough, you can eventually impress them? Can’t haters drive us to produce better work? The risk that I see is the potential the hater has to make the creator give up. As long as we don’t quit, I think the “hater” plays, a difficult to endure but also, a very valuable role in the creation process. What do you guys think?

    • Gregory Ciotti

      High standards didn’t play quite the same role here, as subjects were evaluating things like a fake microwave-oven that the researchers made up.🙂

      I do think it’s perfectly fine to be selective. But “haters” generally take the extra step, they go out of their way to put the creator down when they could have been silent OR left constructive feedback.

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  • Joseph Wolfe

    I find the old proverb, “A gentle answer turns away wrath” is quite true many times over. Responding to the person with kindness catches many of them off guard. Some people overreact simply because they don’t think they will be heard in the first place. Letting those people know they are heard often diffuses their anger.

    Occasionally, some people cannot be reasoned with. You do your best, but eventually shrug and move on. If you kept your cool, then that’s a win in a tough situation.

    • Luke VW

      That’s so true!🙂

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  • Askar Ibragimov

    If someone complains on improper behaviour, or I receive an inadequate negative message, I simply remind myself what I believe is close to statistical truth (albeit not verified by me scientifically): that person is not rude solely to me or to my friend. That person is such with most of other person. Then it is rather easy to stop taking insults personal. Usually you can guess easily whether the critic is really just upset with you or with majority of other people too.

  • fionamcgier

    Irish playwright Brendan Behan: “Critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done everyday, but they’re unable to do it themselves.” Next time you get a bad review of your creation, remind yourself of this quote. I have it hanging over my laptop where I write.

    • Jon Bjork

      Best quote ever Fiona! Great article as well Gregory:)

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Illustration by Oscar Ramos Orozco.
Illustration by Oscar Ramos Orozco.
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