KentuckyFC writes: "In behavioral psychology, the theory of operant conditioning is the notion that an individual's future behavior is determined by the punishments and rewards he or she has received in the past. It means that specific patterns of behavior can be induced by punishing unwanted actions while rewarding others. While the theory is more than 80 years old, it is hard at work in the 21st century in the form of up- and down-votes — or likes and dislikes — on social networks. But does this form of reward and punishment actually deter unwanted actions while encouraging good behavior? Now a new study of the way voting influences online behavior has revealed the answer. The conclusion: negative feedback leads to behavioral changes that are hugely detrimental to the community. Not only do authors of negatively-evaluated content contribute more but their future posts are of lower quality and are perceived by the community as such. What's more, these authors are more likely to evaluate fellow users negatively in future, creating a vicious circle of negative feedback. By contrast, positive feedback does not influence authors much at all. That's exactly the opposite of what operant conditioning theory predicts. The researchers have a better suggestion for social networks: 'Given that users who receive no feedback post less frequently, a potentially effective strategy could be to ignore undesired behavior and provide no feedback at all.' Would Slashdotters agree?"