Online Disinhibition: Why educators should care


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:

  1. Benign Disinhibition
  2. 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.

Further Reading

Facebook Psychology: 7 Reasons Why We Act Differently Online

Why we act differently online. Backed by Psychology

Resources for Teaching the Growth Mindset

Mindset Kit

Why Social and Emotional Learning is Essential for Students

Instead of detention these students get meditation


Carol Dweck. (n.d.). Stanford University. Retrieved on March 21, 2016 from

Casale, S., Fiovaranti, G., & Caplan, S. (2015). Online disinhibition: Precursors and outcomes. Journal of Media Psychology, 27 (4), 170-177. doi:

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

Suler, J. (2004). The online disinhibition effect. Cyberpsychology and Behavior, 7 (3), 321-326. doi: doi:10.1089/1094931041291295


Author: alyshadoria

Alysha Doria works in the private career college sector in Ontario for Herzing College. She is currently Regional Director of Compliance for Ontario locations and an Academic Director for immigration consultant online and Kompass Professional Development (a subsidiary of Herzing). Her primary focus is curriculum development for Kompass. She seeks to develop certificate programs that allow individuals advance their skills in their field. In the last year, Alysha has developed three professional development certificate programs and has gone through two accreditation processes for Immigration Consultant and Mediation. Recently, Alysha has been promoted to a Systems Administrator for Academics where she participates in technological developments, diffusion of technology into the organization, and assists in streamlining academic processes Canada wide.

4 thoughts on “Online Disinhibition: Why educators should care”

  1. Such a timely post. Just in the past week a host of a major network television show stepped out and made a call for the public to consider the words they choose and their attitude toward others online.
    The ability to remain detached and anonymous is both a blessing and a curse. Although many of us appreciate the value of privacy to protect ourselves and our families, there are always people who seem to almost revel anonymously criticize and malign others. Does it not seem so much easier to find fault, rather than encourage? I was just viewing a post on social media this week that discussed this very thing.
    Check out the blog I posted on the potential benefits of teaching empathy to our students. It may not be an easy concept to teach, but if we can encourage our pupils to see things from the perspective of others and try to understand each other more fully, positive outcomes may result.
    I would be glad to hear more about any strategies or tools you might suggest to encourage empathetic thinking on the part of our current students, and future citizens.


    1. “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then do not say anything at all” Great article on the plea to put an end to the toxic disinhibition. I feel that there are going to be many places online where this happens but, maybe it is time we start calling people out and asking for them to stop (Effective or no? Worth a shot I guess)
      I recall us talking about this in class. It seemed as if there was a split, specifically when it came to keeping the children anonymous. It was interesting to see that there were many of us Millennials (I may be assuming here) who wanted the anonymity in regards to photos of their children.
      I would have to agree with you that the teaching of empathy is crucial in children understanding digital life and their behavior. One of the ideas that comes to mind is Social and Emotional Learning ( and how we can implement it into our cultures and our curriculum.
      Social and Emotional Learning has 5 key pillars:

      Self-awareness- the ability to recognize one’s own emotions
      Self-management- The ability to regulate one’s own emotions
      Responsible decision making- The ability to make constructive choices
      Relationship skills- The ability to establish and maintain relationships
      Social awareness- EMPATHY!!

      So empathy is not just about empathy. It is about other competencies that surround it, support it, and need to be with it in order for the creation of an empathetic culture to be created

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree with you, Alysha, that it is a community effort. “It takes a village to raise a child.” That phrase can be applied on many levels. Are parents and teachers fully aware of what students are doing on social media? Do teachers even have the right to monitor malevolent activity if it is taking place outside of the school and school hours on student’s personal device? What is a teacher’s jurisdiction with regards to student technology use? Do parents really know what their children are doing on social media? Are parents prepared for what their children can do with technology?

        I feel that teachers need to be educating parents about student technology use as much as teaching students about technology use. I just had an experience where my students (early primary) were teaching their parents about a technological application that was being used in my class. I was a little shocked that some of my parents were learning this program from my students. I was really proud that my students could help their parents to learn it, and I was really happy that my students were able to apply their learning in a “real-life” application. However, I was very surprised that my students’ parents were not more experienced with technology.

        I feel that we (teachers) should potentially be providing parents with technology information nights. We can show our parents what applications can be used by students, and we can show parents different tools or strategies for how students will be using technology in our classrooms. We could also talk to parents about different methods for engaging in conversation with our students/children about empathetic use of technology. This could help bring us all up-to-speed with how students are using technology.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. “Do teachers even have the right to monitor malevolent activity if it is taking place outside of the school and school hours on student’s personal device?”

        This question is always so tricky for me to answer. And to be honest I am still not 100% sure of my opinion on the matter. Last year I found out about in Loco Parentis. I read an article that stated that it was a legal responsibility of instructors across Ontario to act in Loco Parentis. According to Lake (1999) when acting in loco parentis the college or school acquires parental powers and has a responsibility to protect its students. Now the article was referencing adequate lighting in parking lots and campus security measures and so on, but is technology not included when we talk about having a responsibility to keep students safe? Not a debate item, but just food for thought.
        I love the idea of the technology nights for parents. This would be a great way to get the entire community involved in helping understand the negative impacts that can come along with it


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