The Online Disinhibition Effect
The online disinhibition effect is defined as a lowering of behavioural inhibitions in an online environment (Lapidot-Lefler, & Barak, 2012). The idea is that the psychological restraints that we use in our personal daily lives, in face to face interactions, serve to block certain emotions or reactions we may have. These restraints are often lowered when online.
There are two types of online disinhibition:
- Benign Disinhibition
- Toxic Disinhibition
Benign disinhibition involves self-exploration (Suler, 2004). People will often reveal hopes or dreams that they have, or reach out to the online community to build or experience a new identity. Benign disinhibition is considered positive because people are expressing themselves for personal growth.
Toxic disinhibition occurs when people are looking for ways to act out or have issues of anger and resentment (Suler, 2004). These individuals will often make rude or derogatory comments, provide harsh criticisms or threaten others. Toxic disinhibition can be aggressive and intimidating.
Individuals who have higher disinhibitions may have characteristics of interpersonal difficulties (Casale, Fiovaranti, & Caplan, 2015). Some studies have even shown that higher disinhibition comes from those who are socially anxious, or those with low levels of self-presentational competence (Wang, Jackson, & Zhang, 2011 as cited in Casale, Fiovaranti, & Caplan, 2015).
Toxic Disinhibition in the Classroom
With technology increasingly playing an integral role in our pedagogy and our classrooms, toxic disinhibition is what educators need to address. Social media tools such as Facebook, YouTube, and blogs can amplify online disinhibition by increasing Invisibility and asynchronicity. Participants are more invisible without physical interaction, body language or facial cues. In addition, there is no need to cope with an immediate reaction to what is written, because people are not communicating in real time (Suler, 2004).
3 Ways to Address Toxic Online Disinhibition
As educators, we want our students to have a positive experience when using technology tools online and therefore need to find ways to address the issue.
Teaching the Growth Mindset
Psychologist Carol Dweck’s specific area of research has looked at mindsets and how people understand themselves and guide their behavior (Dweck, n.d.). The growth mindset is the belief that our brains and our skills are just the starting point to our learning and that our qualities are able to develop over time (Mindset Online, 2010). Those who harness a growth mindset are constantly monitoring what is going on and looking for ways to learn and improve. If we are able to teach a growth mindset, it is likely our students will develop stronger connections, and increase self-regulation when participating in online activities.
Social and Emotional Learning
THE SEL Framework described by CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning) describes 5 key pillars to social and emotional learning: Self-management, self-awareness, Social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making, According to Weare and Gray (as cited in Matthews, 2005), developing SEL can improve behaviour (in and out of the classroom); increase inclusion for children with emotional or behaviour issues, and improve learning. If we are able to teach and promote SEL skills, we may better able to prevent the toxic disinhibition that happens in online environments
Education on Appropriate Online Use
It is important that we educate students about appropriate online use and identify factors that increase toxic online disinhibition. We must bring together parents, teachers, administrators and the community to educate. When toxic disinhibition occurs, comments can be hurtful to those on the receiving end and students need to understand the impact that words and aggressive online behavior can have on others. Resources such as the Red Cross, the WITS Program (Walk away, Talk it out, Ignore, Seek Help), and the Government of Canada’s Get Cyber Safe are useful. Although labeled as cyberbullying prevention, these resources are able to provide information for parents, teachers, and students of all age groups on inappropriate online behavior.
Carol Dweck. (n.d.). Stanford University. Retrieved on March 21, 2016 from https://psychology.stanford.edu/cdweck
Casale, S., Fiovaranti, G., & Caplan, S. (2015). Online disinhibition: Precursors and outcomes. Journal of Media Psychology, 27 (4), 170-177. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1027/1864-1105/a000136
Lapidot-Lefler, N., & Barak, A. (2012). Effects of anonymity, invisibility, and lack of eye contact on toxic online disinhibition. Computers in Human Behavior, 28, 434-443. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2011.10.014
Matthews, B. (2005). Engaging Education: Developing Emotional Literacy, Equity, and Co-Education. Berkshire: Open University Press.
Mindset Online (2010). What is Mindset? Retrieved from https://mindsetonline.com/whatisit/about/index.html
Suler, J. (2004). The online disinhibition effect. Cyberpsychology and Behavior, 7 (3), 321-326. doi: doi:10.1089/1094931041291295