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PSY 355 Psychology & Media in the Digital Age

This page was last modified on March 5, 2014

Disinhibition Online: Psychological Issues

Disinhibition Online =
"people say and do things in cyberspace that they wouldn't ordinarily say or do in the face-to-face (ftf) world. They loosen up, feel more uninhibited, express themselves more openly" (Suler, 2004)
  • Posting pictures & comments about oneself that are risky or very revealing
  • Opening up personal beliefs and experiences that would usually remain private
    • Positive: acts of generosity, helpfulness, love, commitment
    • Negative: acts of vindictiveness, harm, racism, etc.
  • Posting comments which are vicious, nasty, rude (toxic disinhibition)
Psychological Explanations for Disinhibition Online (Suler, 2004)
You Don't Know Me: Dissociative Anonymity
  • Individuals can often choose to be "anonymous" online
  • People separate themselves online from ftf behaviors (dissociation)
You Can't See Me: Invisibility
  • Online people are often invisible, they can't see you, they may not know who you are
  • You don't have the information gained from seeing the reactions of others directly & are not constrained by that feedback
See You Later: Asynchronicity
  • We often do not respond to one another online in real time, but rather asynchronously, i.e., it may take minutes, hours, days before responses are made
  • Again we don't get the feedback that comes when we communicate ftf in real time
It's All In My Head: Solipsistic Introjection
  • Since "cyberspace" is so much "in our minds" rather than a "real" place in space & time, persons online may find themselves merging their own thoughts with their imaginative thoughts of the other person. In this way, the other person online is less a real figure "out there" as much as a character that we have created inside our own heads
  • Solipsistic is an adjective meaning "created by me alone." It comes from the word solipsism which is the philosophical belief that the only things that are real are those things within my mind.
It's Just a Game: Dissociative Imagination
  • Individuals online may dissociate (split off) what is going on in their own minds with what it true in real life. Thus, they imagine what they are doing in cyberspace is playing in some form of a game. It's fun. Let's just enjoy what is happening because, ultimately, it is unreal.
We're Equals: Minimizing Authority
  • Online many persons have no clue about the status, power, or authority level of the people they are dealing with. The online world tends to "level" the playing field of social relationships. And, if everyone is equal, everyone is entitled to state what they believe or think.
  • The absence of authority figures frees individuals from holding back.
Personality Variables
  • The online environment may be sufficiently different than "real life" that different personality characteristics are magnified online. Angry people can become ferocious, histrionic people become very very emotional, etc.
Self Constellations Across Media
  • We function as people who are part of environments. Our actions and responses are regularly guided by the sorts of places in which we find ourselves. In school we act one way, at home another, in church another, at a party in yet another way. Each of these ways of acting probably have some common threads, but they are often sufficiently different (see William James' notion of the "social self")
  • In using media, we may find ourselves expressing a particular kind of self (a self constellation). So, the timid person might enjoy action films. The football player might like to watch intensely romantic or personal dramas. The shy person who never speaks up in class may write long and involved comments online. 

Past Selves, Current Selves, and Future Selves: Retrospective and Prospective Judgments

Past-Current-Future Self
  • What were you like ten years ago? What did you enjoy doing? What was most important to you?
  • What are you like now? What do you enjoy doing? What is most important to you?
  • What will you be like in ten years? What will you enjoy doing? What will be most important to you then?


John Suler (2004). The Online Disinhibition Effect from The Psychology of Cyberspace. http://truecenterpublishing.com/psycyber/disinhibit.html