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Clinical concept of disinhibition

"Dis-inhibition" is a process, of whatever aetiology, which results in an individual having a reduced capacity to edit or manage their immediate impulsive response to a situation.

Disinhibition is a common symptom following a physical injury to the brain, particularly to the frontal lobe. It may also be as a result of delirium, mania or drugs.

An individual experiencing disinhibition is more prone to react according to their feelings and reaction at each moment in time. The individual is less able to exercise their normal control, that is to choose to inhibit some of their responses in the way we all do each day for reasons of politeness or sensitivity or social appropriateness or desire to keep our true feelings hidden from others.

Individuals under the influence of alcohol, for example, exhibit disinhibition in view of the depressant effect of alcohol on the brain's higher functioning.

Associative learning concept of disinhibition

The term "disinhibition" is also used to describe a fundamental process of associative learning, specifically within the realm of classical (Pavlovian) conditioning. Disinhibition is the recurrence of a conditioned response after extinction trials have eliminated said response elicited by the presentation of a novel stimulus. The following process best illustrates this form of disinhibition:

An organism undergoes some series of classical conditioning trials until the conditioned stimulus reliably elicits a conditioned response. At this time, the organism then undergoes extinction trials until the conditioned stimulus no longer reliably elicits the conditioned response. Disinhibition occurs when, after these exinction trials, a new, novel stimulus is presented to the organism and at which time the organism again begins to show the previously extinguished conditioned response. This phenomenon is not to be confused with spontaneous recovery, though the concepts seem similar.

Disinhibition is the temporary increase in strength of an extinguished response due to an unrelated stimulus effect. This differs from Spontaneous Recovery, which is the temporary increase in strength of a conditioned response, which is likely to occur during extinction after the passage of time. Both of these effects occur during classical and operant conditioning.

Colloquial usage of the term disinhibition

Clinical terms sometimes gain a broader usage and meaning in society outside of their original technical definition.

The concept of disinhibition is being applied with some regularity in news articles as an explanation for how youth communicate differently when using the media of instant messaging, text messaging, and posting content on social networking sites. Because technology may provide a perceived buffer from regular consequences and an actual buffer from traditional social cues, people will say and do things through technology that they would not say and do face-to-face. Young people who have an immature understanding of the dangers or consequences of certain behavior may often talk openly about sexual issues or post provocative pictures online.

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