Psychology of Cyberspace – The Online Disinhibition Effect
Does the disinhibition effect release inner needs, emotions, and attributes that dwell beneath surface personality presentations? Does it reveal your “true self.” For example, a woman with repressed anger unleashes her hostility online, thereby showing others how she really feels. Or a shy man openly expresses his hidden affection for his cyberspace companion.
Some people do report being more like their true self in cyberspace. If personality is constructed in layers, with a core or true self buried beneath surface defenses and the seemingly superficial roles of everyday social interactions, then does the disinhibition effect release that true self?
This is a tempting conclusion. In fact, the very notion of a true self is tempting because it is useful in helping people articulate their experiences in how and what they express to others about themselves. The concept also works well, in a humanistic fashion, as a motivational tool in the process of self-actualization.
However, a comprehensive psychological as well as philosophical analysis reveals complexities in
Personal and cultural values: Personal and cultural values often dictate what we consider the true and false aspects of who we are. We more readily accept as valid those attributes that we regard as positive. An unpleasant aspect of one’s personality is not really “me.” However, sexual and aggressive tendencies, as Freud noted, are basic components of personality too, as are the psychological defenses designed to control them.
Personal and cultural values may also label the usually polite persona that we present to others during everyday living as superficial or false. However, this persona is the product of years of social and psychological development. As a critical component of the ego’s construction and functioning, it is essential to interpersonal survival and no less important or true than other components of intrapsychic structure.
While online people may feel they have more opportunities to present themselves as they would like to present themselves, particularly in the carefully composed text of asynchronous communication. They may have more chances to convey thoughts and emotions that go “deeper” than the seemingly superficial persona of everyday living. These opportunities are very valuable aspects of cyberspace, but not necessarily evidence of a more true self. What we reveal about ourselves spontaneously, often right on the surface for others to see but without our being consciously awareness of it, may be just as real and true.
Some people are not fully satisfied with their in-person relationships. Perhaps they don’t have opportunities to develop many relationships, or those that did develop turned out to be unfulfilling. In cyberspace they may find the companions they need. They feel more authentic in those online relationships, and this becomes a viable lifestyle alternative. On the other hand, some people who need to deny or rationalize the unfulfilling quality of their in-person relationships may resort to a personal philosophy that idealizes the disinhibition effect and the notion that the true self appears online.