Sunday, May 29, 2011

Teen Internet Addiction: The Disinhibition Effect

We are all equals: cyberspace and the minimization of authority
This is the final blog on the topic of cyberspace and disinhibited teen behavior. When teens are online a person's status in the face-to-face world may not be known or it may not have as much impact as it does in three-dimensional reality. If the teen cannot see a person or the surroundings of a person, they may not know if that person's title carries authority or if they are an ordinary person lounging around at home in front of the computer. Even if teens do know something about a person's off-line status and power, that elevated position may have little impact on their online presence and influence. Teens tend to view everyone on the internet as an equals, as having a mutual and shared opportunity to give voice to their ideas and opinions. According to a typical teen, everyone, regardless of status, wealth, race, and gender starts off on a level playing field in cyberspace.

Teens are reluctant to say what they think when they stand before an authority figure. A fear of disapproval and punishment from "on high" dampens the spirit when in close proximity to power figure. But online, in what feels like a peer relationship, teens experience authority as minimized and thus they are much more willing to  speak out or misbehave. Teens see everyone as equal in cyberspace. Teens point to the fact that the Internet itself is engineered with no centralized authority or control. Teens see themselves as having endless potential for creating new environments and as result see themselves as independent minded explorers. This atmosphere contributes to a limited sense of authority and to increased disinhibited behavior.

The key issue with respect to teens and disinhibited behavior in cyberspace is to facilitate a dialogue about choices. The fact that cyberspace can contribute to disinhibited behavior does not mean parents or authority figures should clamp down on cyber expression. Rather, the better strategy is to point out how the unique and novel dynamics of cyberspace contribute to choices that the teen may live to regret. As has been noted in prior blogs, the best way to address online behavior is to empower teens with education and appropriate choices.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Teen internet addiction: the disinhibition effect

As is described in the previous blog John Suler discusses the disinhibition effect of teen behavior in cyberspace. The previous blog discussed how anonymity and invisibility contribute to disinhibited behavior.

This blog will focus on what is referred to as "asynchronicity" and "dissociative imagination."

See you later: asynchronicity

Whether in an e-mail or on a message board, communication in cyberspace can be asynchronous -- which simply means communication in cyberspace does not have occur in real time. When using cyber communication, teens can decide whether they want to respond in minutes, hours, days, or even months. Due to the fact teens can use cyber communication without having to react to a conversation partner's immediate reaction, disinhibition is increased. In real time we are confronted with having to deal with real feedback, problems, controversy, and disconnections. However, when in cyberspace, there are delays, which can contribute to making comments or giving feedback that is confrontational, rude, overly personal, or dramatic. We can all freeze time in cyberspace which contributes to communicating and then running for cover. In cyberspace we do not have to focus on or address the immediate consequences of our choices if we choose not to: we can hit the pause button and disappear.

It's just a game: dissociative imagination

Due to the fact teens can create what ever identity they want in cyberspace, that they are free to create a make-believe dimension (a dream world), separate and apart from the demands and responsibilities of the real world, their cyber behavior is more likely to be disinhibited. Teens in cyberspace split or disassociate online fiction from off-line fact. Teens are particularly vulnerable to viewing their online life as a kind of game with rules and norms that do not apply to everyday life. Once a teen has turned off the computer and returned to daily life, they often believe they can leave the cyber game and their cyber identity behind. The teen reflects: "why should I be held responsible for what happens in a make-believe world that has nothing to do with my reality?" As a result of being able to split off or disassociate online behavior from off-line reality, teenagers may become dangerously disinhibited or reckless.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Teen Internet Addiction: The Disinhibition Effect

John Suler has written about a phenomenon he calls the "disinhibition effect" of cyberspace. Suler states internet users say and do things in cyberspace that ordinarily they would not say or do in face-to-face encounters. This is particularly true of teens, who feel they can utilize the internet to disclose their deepest fears, desires, and opinions. Teens often reveal secret emotions and wishes and offer and receive open and direct feedback in a manner that they would typically avoid in school or community settings. There is something about cyberspace that removes internal inhibition or barriers and can lead to the open, honest and creative expression of ideas and feelings as well as the disclosure of highly personal and sensitive information that should remain in the private sphere.

What causes cyberspace disinhibition? What is it about cyberspace that loosens psychological barriers that typically block the release of inner feelings and needs? Suler states several factors are at play. For some individuals one or two factors produce most of the disinhibition effect. However, in most cases, multiple factors interact with each other, supplement each other, resulting in a more complicated and amplified effect.

This blog will be divided into three parts in order to give careful consideration to each of the factors that lead to disinhibition.

Part one: 

Dissociative anonymity
As teenagers and adults travel through cyberspace they have the option of concealing their identity and thereby remain fully anonymous. Travelers through cyberspace can have no name--  or at least not a real name. They can disclose their age or choose not to conceal their age. The traveler can report intimate details and preferences, likes, and dislike -- or they can choose not to disclose anything of substance. The bottom line is anonymity works to escalate the disinhibition effect. When people have the opportunity to separate their behavior online from their real-world identity off-line, they feel less vulnerable about being disinhibited. Whatever they say or do in cyberspace cannot be directly linked to their lives off-line. For teenagers this means that they do not have to take responsibility for their behavior by acknowledging their identity. When acting out hostile feelings, for example, teens can bully, intimidate, and behave in provocative ways with full and complete immunity due to anonymity.

The disinhibition effect is escalated further by the choice to remain invisible in cyberspace. Through e-mail,  message boards, chat rooms, and blogs a person's identity in terms of their name, age, and even geographical location may be clear. However, whether using e-mail or chatting or blogging a person can choose to remain physically invisible. The opportunity to be invisible amplifies the disinhition effect because it eliminates the need to focus on how a person looks and sounds when they communicate. If we do not have to consider how our conversation partner's physical and auditory presentation when they communicate the nature of communication is fundamentally changed.

Being able to see a person frown, shake their head, look confused, bored, or upset influences how we communicate. As 70 % of communication is broadcast across non-verbal channels, the fact that internet communication can eliminate non-verbal communication allows a speaker to take risks and stretch boundaries in a way he/she would not if in a face to face encounter. By taking in broadband communication --   facial expressions, tone of voice, changes in emotional states -- our intention to communicate is constantly evolving as we modify our intentions based on the flow of information. In summary, if we are invisible and our conversation partners are invisible, communication tends to lack consideration of the consequences of our communicative intentions. By not being able to see and hear an individual, the door to disinhibited behavior swings wide open.

In the next blog we  will cover how asynchronicity and dissociative imagination  contribute to disinhibition in cyber space.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Update:Youth and Media Lab At The Berkman Center

Youth and Media Lab

Here is an announcement from the Berkman Center at Harvard:  "Expanding its work on young people and digital technologies, the Berkman Center is launching a youth-driven R&D lab for media literacy and digital empowerment – the Youth and Media Lab - supported by a grant from the McCormick Foundation."  "The Lab will bring together a small, diverse, and highly motivated group of talented young people with leading researchers and developers from the Berkman Center and with mentors from the Center’s broader network. The Lab will engage in innovative and creative ways with the core challenges and opportunities that youth encounter online, including issues such as online safety, privacy, credibility/information quality, civic participation, and entrepreneurship."
"The Lab’s activities will focus on exploratory research, curriculum building, tool development and testing, and peer teaching and learning. Goals include increasing youth participation, promoting innovation, and fostering entrepreneurship."
"The Lab will be based in Cambridge, but the Berkman Center’s Youth and Media team is eager to develop a global network of labs and partners, involving young people from distinct settings and backgrounds with one another and with a larger global community."