The benign online disinhibition effect: Could situational factors induce self-disclosure and prosocial behaviors?

Abstract

The current study, which focuses on the benign effects of disinhibition, was designed as a continuation of an earlier study conducted on the toxic effects of online disinhibition (Lapidot-Lefler & Barak, 2012). Using a factorial design, the study examined the effects of three online situational factors—anonymity, invisibility, and lack of eye contact—on inducing self-disclosure and prosocial behaviors as expressions of benign online disinhibition. Random pairs of adult strangers (n = 144) discussed a dilemma and were required to reach a joint solution using online chat. Self-disclosure and prosocial behavior effects were measured using participants’ self-reports, expert judges’ ratings of chat transcripts, and textual analyses of the conversations. Results suggested that the interaction between anonymity and invisibility had a significant effect on the revealing of emotions. Lack of eye contact, the interaction between anonymity and invisibility and the interaction between lack of eye contact and invisibility had a significant effect on the inducement of first-person words. The interaction between anonymity, invisibility and lack of eye contact had significant effects on the total self-disclosure score, yet no significant effects were found for prosocial behaviors. A discussion of the findings with regard to previous research on toxic online disinhibition suggests that different factors play a role in the inducement of benign vs. toxic online disinhibition effects. More research is required to substantiate current findings and determine the nature of the contribution of each situational factor.

Bibliographic citation

Lapidot-Lefler, N., & Barak, A. (2015). The benign online disinhibition effect: Could situational factors induce self-disclosure and prosocial behaviors?. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 9(2), article 3. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.5817/CP2015-2-3

Keywords

online communication; benign disinhibition; anonymity; invisibility; eye contact

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