Social power, alcohol intoxication, and anonymity all have strong influences on human cognition and behavior. However, the social consequences of each of these conditions can be diverse, sometimes producing prosocial outcomes and other times enabling antisocial behavior. We present a general model of disinhibition to explain how these seemingly contradictory effects emerge from a single underlying mechanism: The decreased salience of competing response options prevents activation of the Behavioral Inhibition System (BIS). As a result, the most salient response in any given situation is expressed, regardless of whether it has prosocial or antisocial consequences. We review three distinct routes through which power, alcohol intoxication, and anonymity reduce the salience of competing response options, namely, through Behavioral Approach System (BAS) activation, cognitive depletion, and reduced social desirability concerns. We further discuss how these states can both reveal and shape the person. Overall, our approach allows for multiple domain-specific models to be unified within a common conceptual framework that explains how both situational and dispositional factors can influence the expression of disinhibited behavior, producing both prosocial and antisocial outcomes.

Jacob B. Hirsh, Adam Galinsky, and C.B. Zhong
Journal Article
Publication Date
Perspectives on Psychological Science

Full Citation

Hirsh, Jacob B., Adam Galinsky, and C.B. Zhong
. “Drunk, powerful, and in the dark: How general processes of disinhibition produce both prosocial and antisocial behavior.”
Perspectives on Psychological Science
, (January 01, 2011):