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The Disinhibition Effect


By Kerry Hecht

It’s a given that within online qualitative research (blogs, video diaries, forums, chat, etc), researchers get the opportunity to hear consumers talk about their experiences and their feelings towards products brands and services, but is the dialogue ‘real’ enough?

John Suller’s The Psychology of Cyberspace says:

“It’s well known that people say and do things in cyberspace that they wouldn’t ordinarily say or do in the face-to-face world. They loosen up, feel more uninhibited, express themselves more openly. Researchers call this the “disinhibition effect.”

Perhaps the pinnacle of any online research community or ad-hoc online qual study, however, is when, as a researcher, you get to sit back and  hear consumers talk among themselves about  brands,  products and their experiences.

Why is this so powerful? Simply, it provides some of the most candid and unadulterated insight one will ever experience since, as far as the participant is concerned, neither the researcher nor the client (brand) is in the same room and, as John Suller says:

“According to traditional Internet philosophy, everyone is an equal: Peers share ideas and resources. In fact, the net itself is engineered with no centralized control. As it grows, with a seemingly endless potential for creating new environments, many people see themselves as independent-minded explorers. This atmosphere and philosophy contribute to the minimizing of authority.”

These phenomenon and the platforms set a scenario where consumers can literally spew the good, the bad and the ugly without fear of reprisal, backlash or judgment and without the peer pressure associated with real physical presence. For the researcher and the client, it provides an opportunity to hear first-hand the language and experience the passion and gusto consumers use to share their points of view. It delivers truths that are hard to come by elsewhere, in such fashion.

If you’re asking yourself what online research communities can do for you, this should be somewhere near the top of the list.

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