Understanding Online Disinhibition: An Investigation of the Relationship Between Information and Communication Technology and Adolescent Personality, Identity, and Behaviour
A series of investigations were carried out to gain a better understanding of the influence of adolescent personality and identity in predicting online disinhibition. Taking a person-centred approach, the thesis tested whether distinct youth profiles of information and communication technology usage preferences, as well as unique motives of Internet use, would emerge among two adolescent samples; and second, whether these distinct profiles were significantly associated with maladaptive outcomes of personality, identity, and offline and online behaviour. In addition, this thesis also included a specific investigation of the predictive effects of the dark personality traits of narcissism, sadism, and psychopathy on self-perceptions, online disinhibition, and cyber aggression. Study 1 involved two major objectives, first, by using a sample of 933 adolescents, it aimed to identify groups of adolescents who share similar communication technology use habits based on their time spent interacting with various digital communication devices and associated online platforms. Results indicated four distinct profiles of technology use preferences. The second objective of Study 1 was to investigate the degree to which these distinct usage preferences predicted indicators of maladaptive identity and offline behaviours. Most notably, immoral behaviours and compromised identity outcomes were found to be highest among those adolescents who displayed a preference for elevated communication technology use. Overall, the findings illustrate that important constructs of both identity and behaviour are associated with individual communication technology usage preferences. Employing a large sample of 709 adolescents (Mage = 15.56 years), Study 2 was constructed to explore the direct effects of narcissism, sadism, psychopathy, and false self perceptions on online disinhibition and cyber aggression. Path model results indicated that all three dark personality traits, as well as false self, were positively associated with online disinhibition. Second, potential relationships among the dark personality traits, false self perceptions, online disinhibition, and cyber aggression were also examined, and psychopathy, sadistic traits, and online disinhibition were found to be significant predictors of aggressive online behaviour chiefly through indirect effects through false self and online disinhibition. The Study 2 findings collectively provide a more nuanced understanding of how antisocial personality traits are associated with maladaptive identity formation as well as online disinhibition. Finally, in Study 3, using latent profile analysis, distinct group differences behind adolescent motivations (as opposed to Internet habits studied in Study 1) for Internet and social media use were explored. In addition, we examined how personality, false self perceptions, and online disinhibition differed as a function of these motivation classes. Results revealed three discernable profiles of Internet and social media motives where adolescents either exhibited high, medium, or low levels of motives for engaging with the online world. Notably, self-report levels of sadism, perceptions of false self, and online disinhibition were highest among adolescents belonging to the group of youth who exhibited the highest overall motivations for Internet and social media use. In combination, these studies illustrate the importance of considering adolescents as active and decisive consumers of various ICT outlets, as well as online content and platform selection. The thesis highlights how particularly high online engagement is associated with high levels of dysfunctional identity and behaviour, and how personality underlies unique motives to engage with particular online content. The thesis findings also highlight the important role identity construction may play in media selection and engagement, and how a breakdown in identity formation can result in an increase in poor behavioural control online. In conclusion, the study results illuminate that not all engagement with the online world is detrimental to youth, but rather individual characteristics of a developing teen (i.e., personality factors) can predispose adolescents to the online disinhibition effect.