On the benign qualities of behavioral disinhibition: because of the prosocial nature of people, behavioral disinhibition can weaken pleasure with getting more than you deserve

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2011 Oct;101(4):791-811. doi: 10.1037/a0023556.


This article focuses on social situations in which people are surprised about what is happening and inhibited about how to respond to the situation at hand. We study these situations by examining a classic topic in social psychology: how people respond to receiving better outcomes than are deserved. In these situations, the actions of an authority or a coworker push in the direction of accepting and enjoying the unfair outcome, whereas personal values for most people push in the direction of rejecting or being displeased with the outcome. This conflict may inhibit people's response to the advantageous but unfair outcomes. If people are indeed inhibited about how to respond to these kinds of outcomes, then lowering behavioral inhibition by reminding people of having acted in the past without inhibitions (in a manner that is unrelated to the outcomes participants subsequently receive) should affect reactions to the outcomes. Specifically, we hypothesize that because many people are prosocial and want to adhere to principles of fairness, reminders of behavioral disinhibition will lead to less pleasure with the unfairly obtained outcomes. The results of 8 experiments (conducted both inside and outside the psychology laboratory) revealed evidence for this benign disinhibition effect on various reactions to outcomes that are better than deserved. In further accordance with our line of reasoning, the effect is particularly pronounced among those who adhere to a prosocial orientation or who have adopted a prosocial mindset and is not observed among those with proself orientations or mindsets.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Decision Making / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Intention
  • Judgment / physiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pleasure / physiology*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Social Values
  • Students / psychology
  • Young Adult