Video: Why are people so obnoxious?

Feb 23, 2011

Obnoxious people. We all know them - whether they're sending passive aggressive e-mails at work, cutting in front of you at the grocery store, or picking unnecessary fights over politics. They're out there. Unstoppable. Unavoidable. Out there to ruin your day.

How unique is your personality? Well, somewhere, perhaps in your own basement, is a mouse who’s a lot like you: anxious or extraverted; agreeable or aggressive; upstanding or a bit of a manipulator. Personality — the entire range of it, including the people who make you crazy — is an essential diversity that Nature has built into every animal on earth. As varied as we are, we each have a role to play in guiding our species through good times and bad, floods and famines, boom years and bust.

Perhaps there's some evolutionary advantage to the behavior. Do you have any ideas about how the behavior might have helped increase the chances of survival thousands of years ago?

When we do run into these people, how do we keep ourselves from becoming one of them in return?

Are these people aware of how obnoxious they are and don't care, or do they feel entitled to be obnoxious?

I have always believed that people are driven by their intentions, whether they are calculated and focused or merely instinctive and indirect. What would you say is they intention of obnoxious people to act the way they do? Do they not see the alienation they create and the lack of willingness to cooperate that they foster?

If humans share traits with mice etc., did we evolve from all other animals, not just primates?

In my view, people are responsible for their behavior, brain science or no brain science. Your thoughts? Thank you.

How come these people are never fired, even though everybody knows what they're like? They carry on making others' lives miserable, getting promoted, getting raises...

My biggest question is whether their obnoxious actions are intentional and deliberate, or are they simply the effects of a lack of empathy? I can forgive and even learn to live with someone who is not malicious but rather lacks the ability or imagination to infer what their actions do to others. But if they know they're being obnoxious and they just don't care about the rest of us who are sitting there in traffic, minding the yellow line while they blow by on the shoulder, well, there should be a special section of Hades reserved.

Why do others reinforce their behavior instead of confronting them? Bad behavior has become the norm.

Are we supposed to just excuse people's "quirks", or stand up for ourselves and not let others get away with rudeness, lack of consideration for others? What is the limit of patience?

I can't speak over time but it appears we, in this era, value obnoxiousness by rewarding many obnoxious, outlandish people with fame and fortune. Jersey Shore cast members are millionaires with no discernible talent but obnoxiousness. Joe Wilson's outburst brought shame to the institution but notoriety to himself. Self-propagating? Is a young woman's obnoxious behavior influenced even legitimized by Snooki's success?

Is there any differences between parts of the country when it comes to obnoxious people or city vs. rural?

How do I realize I'm being obnoxious?

Can obnoxious people recognize themselves and change their behavior?

How should we respond to the "occasional" obnoxious person, i.e. the usually good co-worker who every once in awhile suddenly becomes terribly unreasonable.

I find more selfish behavior lately top down from political to community. Why are we anti-social?

LAST QUESTION: Ok, I don't really say that. I've never punched anyone and hopefully never will. But I still wonder if a punch in the nose would curb some of our more obnoxious tendencies...

In This Chat
Hannah Holmes
Hannah Holmes is the author of The Well-Dressed Ape, Suburban Safari, and The Secret Life of Dust. Her writing has appeared in National Geographic, The New York Times Magazine, Los Angeles Times Magazine, Discover, Outside, among other publications. She was a frequent contributor on science and nature subjects for the Discovery Channel Online. She lives in Portland, Maine.
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