Check out this interesting post by psychologist Daniel Goleman about the well known effect of electronic communication that allows people to say things online that they would never say in person.

A key mechanism for this involves circuits that ordinarily inhibit impulses for actions that would be rude or simply inappropriate — or outright dangerous.

In order for this regulatory mechanism to operate well, we depend on real-time, ongoing feedback from the other person. The Internet has no means to allow such realtime feedback (other than rarely used two-way audio/video streams). That puts our inhibitory circuitry at a loss — there is no signal to monitor from the other person. This results in disinhibition: impulse unleashed.

There have been several times that I have had the opportunity to meet and converse with individuals face to face with whom I had previously debated online. The difference in the conversation was apparent.

Dr. Goleman also worries that electronic communications may be having a negative effect on the natural development of the inhibitory systems in the brains of teenagers.

Something to keep in mind both in our own electronic communications and in raising our children.

Hat tip: Instapundit

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2 Responses to Cyber-Disinhibition

  1. Of course, I think this is mostly true for the “anonymous” blog. For blogs or other web postings in which either your name is attached or all the readers know it’s yours, the lack of real-time feedback is tempered by reputation effects: I’m posting something that will be associated with my name semi-permanently (more so than a simple comment that disappears in the volumes of communication that one enjoys).

  2. Good point, Dave. I agree that onymity does significantly counter the effect. However, the difference in the communication that occurred in my face-to-face meetings with those with whom I had debated electronically over a long period of time was striking.

    I am interested in other people’s experiences. Have you ever disagreed with someone online and then later conversed with them face-to-face? Was there a noticeable difference in the tone and direction of the conversation? If so, is that difference attributable to the difference in communication medium, or to something else?

    Maybe Mr. Goleman is over analyzing. Perhaps the greater inhibition in real life communication is simply due to the fact that it is much easier to punch someone in the face than it is through the Internet! Forget the brain chemistry; the threat of corporal retaliation alone is enough to help most people hold their tongues! :p

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