Releasing the brake: How disinhibition frees people and facilitates social change

Zan Mlakar*, Jan Willem Bolderdijk, Bob M. Fennis, Hans Risselada, Ben Ye, Lorenzo Zino

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterAcademic

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Following recent online movements (e.g. #BlackLivesMatter), online platforms became widely regarded as catalysts of social change since they allow social agents to mobilize vast audiences. However, we argue that their role as catalysts spans further. Disinhibition provoked by increased anonymity online liberates individuals from their own behavioural constraints (i.e. need for consistency) and from others’ perceptions (i.e. need to be perceived favourably), enabling a freer expression of dissent at the individual level, which can accelerate change at the societal level.

We tested our hypothesis with an experimental paradigm and accompanying agent-based simulations. The paradigm was a multi-round group game with a between-group anonymity manipulation. Participants were tasked with reaching a consensus and incentivised for change-stimulating and change-inhibiting behaviours (i.e. coordination, consistency, conformity), while confederates acted as minorities overthrowing the status quo. The agent-based model contained an agent-level social payoff function with components resembling paradigm-induced motivations, wherein anonymity was manipulated by varying their relative weights.

Our experimental study (n=56 participants, 6 groups) reveals that individuals change their stances faster in anonymous settings. Applying this insight at a larger scale, the agent-based simulations demonstrate that anonymity allows societies to adopt innovations quicker, reach tipping points more easily, and can thus facilitate social change.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2020
EventThe Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s Annual Convention 2020: Group Processes and Intergroup Relations Preconference - New Orleans, United States
Duration: 27-Feb-202029-Feb-2020


ConferenceThe Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s Annual Convention 2020
Abbreviated title2020 SPSP Convention
CountryUnited States
CityNew Orleans

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