Impression management is a conscious or subconscious process in which people attempt to influence the perceptions of other people about a person, object or event. They do so by regulating and controlling information in social interaction. It was first conceptualized by Erving Goffman in 1959, and then was expanded upon in 1967. An example of impression management theory in play is in sports such as soccer. At an important game, a player would want to showcase themselves in the best light possible, because there are college recruiters watching. This person would have the flashiest pair of cleats and try and perform their best to show off their skills. Their main goal may be to impress the college recruiters in a way that maximizes their chances of being chosen for a college team rather than winning the game.
Impression management is usually used synonymously with self-presentation, in which a person tries to influence the perception of their image. The notion of impression management was first applied to face-to-face communication, but then was expanded to apply to computer-mediated communication. The concept of impression management is applicable to academic fields of study such as psychology and sociology as well as practical fields such as corporate communication and media.
The foundation and the defining principles of impression management were created by Erving Goffman in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Impression management theory states that one tries to alter one's perception according to one's goals. In other words, the theory is about how individuals wish to present themselves, but in a way that satisfies their needs and goals. Goffman "proposed to focus on how people in daily work situations present themselves and, in so doing, what they are doing to others", and he was "particularly interested in how a person guides and control how others form an impression of them and what a person may or may not do while performing before them".
A range of factors that govern impression management can be identified. It can be stated that impression management becomes necessary whenever there exists a kind of social situation, whether real or imaginary. Logically, the awareness of being a potential subject of monitoring is also crucial. Furthermore, the characteristics of a given social situation are important. Specifically, the surrounding cultural norms determine the appropriateness of particular nonverbal behaviours. The actions have to be appropriate to the targets, and within that culture, so that the kind of audience as well as the relation to the audience influences the way impression management is realized. A person's goals are another factor governing the ways and strategies of impression management. This refers to the content of an assertion, which also leads to distinct ways of presentation of aspects of the self. The degree of self-efficacy describes whether a person is convinced that it is possible to convey the intended impression.
A new study finds that, all other things being equal, people are more likely to pay attention to faces that have been associated with negative gossip than those with neutral or positive associations. The study contributes to a body of work showing that far from being objective, human perceptions are shaped by unconscious brain processes that determine what they "choose" to see or ignore—even before they become aware of it. The findings also add to the idea that the brain evolved to be particularly sensitive to "bad guys" or cheaters—fellow humans who undermine social life by deception, theft or other non-cooperative behavior.
There are many methods behind self-presentation, including self disclosure (identifying what makes you "you" to another person), managing appearances (trying to fit in), ingratiation, aligning actions (making one's actions seem appealing or understandable), and alter-casting (imposing identities on other people). These self-presentation methods can also be used on the corporate level as impression management.
Self-presentation is conveying information about oneself – or an image of oneself – to others. There are two types and motivations of self-presentation:
- presentation meant to match one's own self-image, and
- presentation meant to match audience expectations and preferences.
Self-presentation is expressive. Individuals construct an image of themselves to claim personal identity, and present themselves in a manner that is consistent with that image. If they feel like it is restricted, they often exhibit reactance or become defiant – try to assert their freedom against those who would seek to curtail self-presentation expressiveness. An example of this dynamic is the "preacher's daughter", whose suppressed personal identity and emotions cause an eventual backlash at her family and community.
- Boasting – Millon notes that in self-presentation individuals are challenged to balance boasting against discrediting themselves via excessive self-promotion or being caught and being proven wrong. Individuals often have limited ability to perceive how their efforts impact their acceptance and likeability by others.
- Flattery – Flattery or praise to increase social attractiveness
- Intimidation aggressively showing anger to get others to hear and obey one's demands.
Self-presentation can be either defensive or assertive strategies. Whereas defensive strategies include behaviours like avoidance of threatening situations or means of self-handicapping, assertive strategies refer to more active behaviour like the verbal idealisation of the self, the use of status symbols or similar practices.
These strategies play important roles in one's maintenance of self-esteem. One's self-esteem is affected by their evaluation of their own performance and their perception of how others react to their performance. As a result, people actively portray impressions that will elicit self-esteem enhancing reactions from others.
Goffman argued in his 1967 book, Interaction ritual, that people participate in social interactions by performing a "line", or "pattern of verbal and nonverbal acts", which is created and maintained by both the performer and the audience. By enacting a line effectively, the person gains positive social value, which is also called "face". The success of a social interaction will depend on whether the performer has the ability to maintain face. As a result, a person is required to display a kind of character by becoming "someone who can be relied upon to maintain himself as an interactant, poised for communication, and to act so that others do not endanger themselves by presenting themselves as interactants to him".
When Goffman turned to focus on people physically presented in a social interaction, the "social dimension of impression management certainly extends beyond the specific place and time of engagement in the organization". Impression management is "a social activity that has individual and community implications". We call it "pride" when a person displays a good showing from duty to himself, while we call it "honor" when he "does so because of duty to wider social units, and receives support from these duties in doing so".
Another approach to moral standards that Goffman pursues is the notion of "rules of conduct", which "can be partially understood as obligations or moral constraints". These rules may be substantive (involving laws, morality, and ethics) or ceremonial (involving etiquette). Rules of conduct play an important role when a relationship "is asymmetrical and the expectations of one person toward another are hierarchical."
Goffman presented impression management dramaturgically, explaining the motivations behind complex human performances within a social setting based on a play metaphor. Goffman's work incorporates aspects of a symbolic interactionist perspective, emphasizing a qualitative analysis of the interactive nature of the communication process. Impression management requires the physical presence of others. Performers who seek certain ends in their interest, must "work to adapt their behavior in such a way as to give off the correct impression to a particular audience" and "implicitly ask that the audience take their performance seriously".
The actor, shaped by the environment and target audience, sees interaction as a performance. The objective of the performance is to provide the audience with an impression consistent with the desired goals of the actor. Thus, impression management is also highly dependent on the situation. In addition to these goals, individuals differ in responses from the interactive environment, some may be non-responsive to an audience's reactions while others actively respond to audience reactions in order to elicit positive results. These differences in response towards the environment and target audience are called self-monitoring. Another factor in impression management is self-verification, the act of conforming the audience to the person's self-concept.
The audience can be real or imaginary. IM style norms, part of the mental programming received through socialization, are so fundamental that we usually do not notice our expectations of them. While an actor (speaker) tries to project a desired image, an audience (listener) might attribute a resonant or discordant image. An example is provided by situations in which embarrassment occurs and threatens the image of a participant.
Goffman proposes that performers "can use dramaturgical discipline as a defense to ensure that the 'show' goes on without interruption." Goffman contends that dramaturgical discipline includes:
- coping with dramaturgical contingencies;
- demonstrating intellectual and emotional involvement;
- remembering one's part and not committing unmeant gestures or faux pas;
- not giving away secrets involuntarily;
- covering up inappropriate behavior on the part of teammates on the spur of the moment;
- offering plausible reasons or deep apologies for disruptive events;
- maintaining self-control (for example, speaking briefly and modestly);
- suppressing emotions to private problems; and
- suppressing spontaneous feelings.
Manipulation and ethics
In business, "managing impressions" normally "involves someone trying to control the image that a significant stakeholder has of them". The ethics of impression management has been hotly debated on whether we should see it as an effective self-revelation or as cynical manipulation. Some people insist that impression management can reveal a truer version of the self by adopting the strategy of being transparent, which is a kind of openness. Because transparency "can be provided so easily and because it produces information of value to the audience, it changes the nature of impression management from being cynically manipulative to being a kind of useful adaptation".
Virtue signalling is used within groups to criticize their own members for valuing outward appearance over substantive action (having a real or permanent, rather than apparent or temporary, existence).
Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that aims to change the behavior or perception of others through abusive, deceptive, or underhanded tactics. By advancing the interests of the manipulator, often at another's expense, such methods could be considered exploitative, abusive, devious, and deceptive. The process of manipulation involves bringing an unknowing victim under the domination of the manipulator, often using deception, and using the victim to serve their own purposes.
Machiavellianism is a term that some social and personality psychologists use to describe a person's tendency to be unemotional, and therefore able to detach him or herself from conventional morality and hence to deceive and manipulate others. (See also Machiavellianism in the workplace.)
In modern usage, sophism, sophist and sophistry are redefined and used disparagingly. A sophism is a specious argument for displaying ingenuity in reasoning or for deceiving someone. A sophist is a person who reasons with clever but fallacious and deceptive arguments.
Self, social identity and social interaction
The social psychologist, Edward E. Jones, brought the study of impression management to the field of psychology during the 1960s and extended it to include people's attempts to control others' impression of their personal characteristics. His work sparked an increased attention towards impression management as a fundamental interpersonal process.
The concept of self is important to the theory of impression management as the images people have of themselves shape and are shaped by social interactions Our self-concept develops from social experience early in life. Schlenker (1980) further suggests that children anticipate the effect that their behaviours will have on others and how others will evaluate them. They control the impressions they might form on others, and in doing so they control the outcomes they obtain from social interactions.
Social identity refers to how people are defined and regarded in social interactions . Individuals use impression management strategies to influence the social identity they project to others. The identity that people establish influences their behaviour in front of others, others' treatment of them and the outcomes they receive. Therefore, in their attempts to influence the impressions others form of themselves, a person plays an important role in affecting his social outcomes.
Social interaction is the process by which we act and react to those around us. In a nutshell, social interaction includes those acts people perform toward each other and the responses they give in return. The most basic function of self-presentation is to define the nature of a social situation (Goffman, 1959). Most social interactions are very role governed. Each person has a role to play, and the interaction proceeds smoothly when these roles are enacted effectively. People also strive to create impressions of themselves in the minds of others in order to gain material and social rewards (or avoid material and social punishments).
Understanding how one's impression management behavior might be interpreted by others can also serve as the basis for smoother interactions and as a means for solving some of the most insidious communication problems among individuals of different racial/ethnic and gender backgrounds.
"People are sensitive to how they are seen by others and use many forms of impression management to compel others to react to them in the ways they wish" (Giddens, 2005, p. 142). An example of this concept is easily illustrated through cultural differences. Different cultures have diverse thoughts and opinions on what is considered beautiful or attractive. For example, Americans tend to find tan skin attractive, but in Indonesian culture, pale skin is more desirable.
Another illustration of how people attempt to control how others perceive them is portrayed through the clothing they wear. A person who is in a leadership position strives to be respected and in order to control and maintain the impression. This illustration can also be adapted for a cultural scenario. The clothing people choose to wear says a great deal about the person and the culture they represent. For example, most Americans are not overly concerned with conservative clothing. Most Americans are content with tee shirts, shorts, and showing skin. The exact opposite is true on the other side of the world. "Indonesians are both modest and conservative in their attire" (Cole, 1997, p. 77).
Companies use cross-cultural training (CCT) to facilitate effective cross-cultural interaction. CCT can be defined as any procedure used to increase an individual's ability to cope with and work in a foreign environment. Training employees in culturally consistent and specific impression management (IM) techniques provide the avenue for the employee to consciously switch from an automatic, home culture IM mode to an IM mode that is culturally appropriate and acceptable. Second, training in IM reduces the uncertainty of interaction with FNs and increases employee's ability to cope by reducing unexpected events.
Team-working in hospital wards
Impression management theory can also be used in health communication. It can be used to explore how professionals 'present' themselves when interacting on hospital wards and also how they employ front stage and backstage settings in their collaborative work.
In the hospital wards, Goffman's front stage and backstage performances are divided into 'planned' and 'ad hoc' rather than 'official' and 'unofficial' interactions.
Planned front stage is the structured collaborative activities such as ward rounds and care conferences which took place in the presence of patients and/or carers.
Ad hoc front stage is the unstructured or unplanned interprofessional interactions that took place in front of patients/carers or directly involved patients/carers.
Planned backstage is the structured MDT meetings in which professionals gathered in a private area of the ward, in the absence of patients, to discuss management plans for patients under their care.
Ad hoc backstage is the use of corridors and other ward spaces for quick conversations between professionals in the absence of patients/carers.
Offstage is the social activities between and among professional groups/individuals outside of the hospital context.
Results show that interprofessional interactions in this setting are often based less on planned front stage activities than on ad hoc backstage activities. While the former may, at times, help create and maintain an appearance of collaborative interprofessional 'teamwork', conveying a sense of professional togetherness in front of patients and their families, they often serve little functional practice. These findings have implications for designing ways to improve interprofessional practice on acute hospital wards where there is no clearly defined interprofessional team, but rather a loose configuration of professionals working together in a collaborative manner around a particular patient. In such settings, interventions that aim to improve both ad hoc as well as planned forms of communication may be more successful than those intended to only improve planned communication.
The hyperpersonal model of computer-mediated communication (CMC) posits that users exploit the technological aspects of CMC in order to enhance the messages they construct to manage impressions and facilitate desired relationships. The most interesting aspect of the advent of CMC is how it reveals basic elements of interpersonal communication, bringing into focus fundamental processes that occur as people meet and develop relationships relying on typed messages as the primary mechanism of expression. "Physical features such as one's appearance and voice provide much of the information on which people base first impressions face-to-face, but such features are often unavailable in CMC. Various perspectives on CMC have suggested that the lack of nonverbal cues diminishes CMC's ability to foster impression formation and management, or argued impressions develop nevertheless, relying on language and content cues. One approach that describes the way that CMC's technical capacities work in concert with users' impression development intentions is the hyperpersonal model of CMC (Walther, 1996). As receivers, CMC users idealize partners based on the circumstances or message elements that suggest minimal similarity or desirability. As senders, CMC users selectively self-present, revealing attitudes and aspects of the self in a controlled and socially desirable fashion. The CMC channel facilitates editing, discretion, and convenience, and the ability to tune out environmental distractions and re-allocate cognitive resources in order to further enhance one's message composition. Finally, CMC may create dynamic feedback loops wherein the exaggerated expectancies are confirmed and reciprocated through mutual interaction via the bias-prone communication processes identified above."
According to O'Sullivan's (2000) impression management model of communication channels, individuals will prefer to use mediated channels rather than face-to-face conversation in face-threatening situations. Within his model, this trend is due to the channel features that allow for control over exchanged social information. The present paper extends O'Sullivan's model by explicating information control as a media affordance, arising from channel features and social skills, that enables an individual to regulate and restrict the flow of social information in an interaction, and present a scale to measure it. One dimension of the information control scale, expressive information control, positively predicted channel preference for recalled face-threatening situations. This effect remained after controlling for social anxiousness and power relations in relationships. O'Sullivan's model argues that some communication channels may help individuals manage this struggle and therefore be more preferred as those situations arise. It was based on an assumption that channels with features that allow fewer social cues, such as reduced nonverbal information or slower exchange of messages, invariably afford an individual with an ability to better manage the flow of a complex, ambiguous, or potentially difficult conversations. Individuals manage what information about them is known, or isn't known, to control other's impression of them. Anyone who has given the bathroom a quick cleaning when they anticipate the arrival of their mother-in-law (or date) has managed their impression. For an example from information and communication technology use, inviting someone to view a person's Webpage before a face-to-face meeting may predispose them to view the person a certain way when they actually meet.
The impression management perspective offers potential insight into how corporate stories could build the corporate brand, by influencing the impressions that stakeholders form of the organization. The link between themes and elements of corporate stories and IM strategies/behaviours indicates that these elements will influence audiences' perceptions of the corporate brand.
Corporate storytelling is suggested to help demonstrate the importance of the corporate brand to internal and external stakeholders, and create a position for the company against competitors, as well as help a firm to bond with its employees (Roper and Fill, 2012). The corporate reputation is defined as a stakeholder's perception of the organization (Brown et al., 2006), and Dowling (2006) suggests that if the story causes stakeholders to perceive the organization as more authentic, distinctive, expert, sincere, powerful, and likeable, then it is likely that this will enhance the overall corporate reputation.
Impression management theory is a relevant perspective to explore the use of corporate stories in building the corporate brand. The corporate branding literature notes that interactions with brand communications enable stakeholders to form an impression of the organization (Abratt and Keyn, 2012), and this indicates that IM theory could also therefore bring insight into the use of corporate stories as a form of communication to build the corporate brand. Exploring the IM strategies/behaviors evident in corporate stories can indicate the potential for corporate stories to influence the impressions that audiences form of the corporate brand.
Firms use more subtle forms of influencing outsiders' impressions of firm performance and prospects, namely by manipulating the content and presentation of information in corporate documents with the purpose of "distort[ing] readers" perceptions of corporate achievements" [Godfrey et al., 2003, p. 96]. In the accounting literature this is referred to as impression management. The opportunity for impression management in corporate reports is increasing. Narrative disclosures have become longer and more sophisticated over the last few years. This growing importance of descriptive sections in corporate documents provides firms with the opportunity to overcome information asymmetries by presenting more detailed information and explanation, thereby increasing their decision-usefulness. However, they also offer an opportunity for presenting financial performance and prospects in the best possible light, thus having the opposite effect. In addition to the increased opportunity for opportunistic discretionary disclosure choices, impression management is also facilitated in that corporate narratives are largely unregulated.
The medium of communication influences the actions taken in impression management. Self-efficacy can differ according to the fact whether the trial to convince somebody is made through face-to-face-interaction or by means of an e-mail. Communication via devices like telephone, e-mail or chat is governed by technical restrictions, so that the way people express personal features etc. can be changed. This often shows how far people will go.
Profiles on social networking sites
Social networking users will employ protective self-presentations for image management. Users will use subtractive and repudiate strategies to maintain a desired image. Subtractive strategy is used to untag an undesirable photo on Social Networking Sites. In addition to un-tagging their name, some users will request the photo to be removed entirely. Repudiate strategy is used when a friend posts an undesirable comment about the user. In response to an undesired post, users may add another wall post as an innocence defense. Michael Stefanone states that "self-esteem maintenance is an important motivation for strategic self-presentation online." Outside evaluations of their physical appearance, competence, and approval from others determines how social media users respond to pictures and wall posts. Unsuccessful self-presentation online can lead to rejection and criticism from social groups. Social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook, and StudiVZ are popular means of communicating personality. Recent theoretical and empirical considerations of homepages and Web 2.0 platforms show that impression management is a major motive for actively participating in social networking sites.
According to Marwick, social profiles create implications such as "context collapse" for presenting oneself to the audience. The concept of ‘‘context collapse,’’ suggests that social technologies make it difficult to vary self-presentation based on environment or audience. "Large sites such as Facebook and Twitter group friends, family members, coworkers, and acquaintances together under the umbrella term ‘‘friends’ "
Not only do users on social networking sites present themselves using photos of themselves, but they also use different symbols and cultural artifacts. For example, researchers have found that food and situations related to food such as restaurant visits is part of adolescents' self-presentation on online social networks. This indicates that messages of food serve a symbolic purpose in these online social networks, and it is also argued that this communication influence adolescents in both positive and negative ways with regards to their health.
Political impression management
One arena where impression management is essential is in politics. "Political impression management" was coined in 1972 by sociologist Peter M. Hall, who defined the term as the art of making a candidate look electable and capable (Hall 1972). This is due in part to the importance of "presidential" candidates—appearance, image, and narrative are a key part of a campaign and thus impression management has always been a huge part of winning an election (Katz 2016). As social media becomes more and more a part of the political process, political impression management is becoming more challenging as the online image of the candidate often now lies in the hands of the voters themselves.
Impression management can distort the results of empirical research that relies on interviews and surveys, a phenomenon commonly referred to as "social desirability bias". Impression management theory nevertheless constitutes a field of research on its own. When it comes to practical questions concerning public relations and the way organizations should handle their public image, the assumptions provided by impression management theory can also provide a framework.
An examination of different impression management strategies acted out by individuals who were facing criminal trials where the trial outcomes could range from a death sentence, life in prison or acquittal has been reported in the forensic literature. The Perri and Lichtenwald article examined female psychopathic killers, whom as a group were highly motivated to manage the impression that attorneys, judges, mental health professions and ultimately, a jury had of the murderers and the murder they committed. It provides legal case illustrations of the murderers combining and/or switching from one impression management strategy such as ingratiation or supplication to another as they worked towards their goal of diminishing or eliminating any accountability for the murders they committed.
Since the 1990s, researchers in the area of sport and exercise psychology have studied self-presentation. Concern about how one is perceived has been found to be relevant to the study of athletic performance. For example, anxiety may be produced when an athlete is in the presence of spectators. Self-presentational concerns have also been found to be relevant to exercise. For example, the concerns may elicit motivation to exercise.
More recent research investigating the effects of impression management on social behaviour showed that social behaviours (e.g. eating) can serve to convey a desired impression to others and enhance one's self-image. Research on eating has shown that people tend to eat less when they believe that they are being observed by others.
- ^Piwinger, Manfred; Ebert, Helmut (2001). "Impression Management: Wie aus Niemand Jemand wird". in: Bentele, Guenther et al. (Ed.), Kommunikationsmanagement: Strategien, Wissen, Lösungen. Luchterhand, Neuwied.
- ^"Impression Management in Sociology: Theory, Definition & Examples". Study.com.
- ^ abcdefghijBrowning, Larry D.; Saetre, Alf Steinar; Stephens, Keri; Sornes, Jan-Oddvar (2010-09-28). Information and Communication Technologies in Action: Linking Theories and Narratives of Practice. Routledge. ISBN 9781135889432.
- ^Kamau, C. (2009) Strategising impression management in corporations: cultural knowledge as capital. In D. Harorimana (Ed) Cultural implications of knowledge sharing, management and transfer: identifying competitive advantage. Chapter 4. Information Science Reference. ISBN 978-1-60566-790-4
- ^Doering 1999, p. 261-2.
- ^Anderson, E; Siegel, EH; Bliss-Moreau, E; Barrett, LF (Jun 2011). "The visual impact of gossip". Science. 332 (6036): 1446–8. doi:10.1126/science.1201574. PMC 3141574. PMID 21596956.
- ^"What is Impression Management?". wiseGEEK.
- ^Baumeister, Roy F. (1987). "Self-Presentation Theory: Self-Construction and Audience Pleasing". Springer Series in Social Psychology. Theories of Group Behavior.
- ^Millon, Theodore (2003). Handbook of Psychology, Personality and Social Psychology. John Wiley & Sons. p. 337. ISBN 978-0-471-38404-5.
- ^Felson 1984, p. 187.
- ^Piwinger; Ebert 2001, p. 26.
- ^Leary; Kowalski 1990.
- ^Hass 1981
- ^ abcGoffman, E. (1967). Interaction ritual: Essays on face-to-face behavior. Chicago: Aldine.
- ^Dillard et al., 2000
- ^Barnhart, 1994
- ^Goffman 2006, p. 40.
- ^ abDöring 1999, p. 262.
- ^Goffman 1956
- ^Braiker, Harriet B. (2004). Who's Pulling Your Strings ? How to Break The Cycle of Manipulation. ISBN 0-07-144672-9.
- ^Adrian Furnham (November 18, 2016). "The Machiavellian Boss". Psychology Today.
- ^Leary; Kowalski 1990
- ^Moffitt, Kimberly. "Social Interactions: Definition & Types".
- ^Brown, Jonathon. "CHAPTER 07 SELF-PRESENTATION"(PDF).
- ^ abRosenfeld, Paul; Giacalone, Robert A.; Riordan, Catherine A. (1994-03-01). "Impression Management Theory and Diversity Lessons for Organizational Behavior". American Behavioral Scientist. 37 (5): 601–604. doi:10.1177/0002764294037005002. ISSN 0002-7642.
- ^ abNorris, Ashley (2011). "Impression Management: Considering Cultural, Social, and Spiritual Factors".
- ^ abcdLewin, Simon; Reeves, Scott (2011-05-01). "Enacting 'team' and 'teamwork': using Goffman's theory of impression management to illuminate interprofessional practice on hospital wards". Social Science & Medicine. 72 (10): 1595–1602. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.03.037. ISSN 1873-5347. PMID 21549467.
- ^Walther, Joseph B. (2007-09-01). "Selective self-presentation in computer-mediated communication: Hyperpersonal dimensions of technology, language, and cognition"(PDF). Computers in Human Behavior. 23 (5): 2538–2557. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2006.05.002.
- ^Feaster, John Christian (2010-10-01). "Expanding the Impression Management Model of Communication Channels: An Information Control Scale". Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 16 (1): 115–138. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2010.01535.x. ISSN 1083-6101.
- ^ abSara Spear; Stuart Roper (2013-11-01). "Using corporate stories to build the corporate brand: an impression management perspective". Journal of Product & Brand Management. 22 (7): 491–501. doi:10.1108/JPBM-09-2013-0387. ISSN 1061-0421.
- ^University, Bangor. "Dr Doris Merkl-Davies | Bangor Business School | Bangor University". www.bangor.ac.uk. Retrieved 2016-03-11.
- ^ abRui, J. and M. A. Stefanone (2013). Strategic Management of Other-Provided Information Online: Personality and Network Variables. System Sciences (HICSS), 2013 46th Hawaii International Conference on.
- ^Krämer, Nicole C.; Winter, Stephan (2008-01-01). "Impression Management 2.0". Journal of Media Psychology. 20 (3): 106–116. doi:10.1027/1864-1184.108.40.206. ISSN 1864-1105.
- ^Marwick, Alice E. (2013). Online Identity. Blackwell. pp. 355–364.
- ^Holmberg, C. (2018). Chapter: "Adolescents' Food Communication in Social Media". In: Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology, Fourth Edition. Doi: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2255-3.ch601. URL: https://www.igi-global.com/chapter/adolescents-food-communication-in-social-media/184391
- ^Tedeschi 1984
- ^Piwinger; Ebert 2001, p. 3.
- ^Perri, Frank S. and Lichtenwald, Terrance G. (2010). "The Last Frontier: Myths & The Female Psychopathic Killer". Forensic Examiner, Summer 2010, 50-67.
- ^Martin Ginis, K.A., Lindwall, M., & Prapavessis, H. (2007). Who cares what other people think? Self-presentation in exercise and sport. In R. Eklund & G. Tenenbaum (Eds.), Handbook of Sport Psychology (pp. 136–153). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiles & Sons.
- ^Herman; Roth; Polivy 2003
- Aronson, Elliot; Wilson, Timothy D; Akert, Robin M (2009). Social Psychology (Seventh Edition). New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
- Barnhart, Adam (1994), Erving Goffman: The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life
- Goffman, Erving (1959). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Doubleday.
- Goffman, Erving (1956). "Embarrassment and Social Organization". The American Journal of Sociology. 62 (3): 264–71. doi:10.1086/222003.
- Goffman, Erving (2006), Wir alle spielen Theater: Die Selbstdarstellung im Alltag, Piper, Munich.
- Dillard, Courtney et al. (2000), Impression Management and the use of procedures at the Ritz-Carlton: Moral standards and dramaturgical discipline, Communication Studies, 51.
- Döring, Nicola (1999), Sozialpsychologie des Internet: Die Bedeutung des Internet für Kommunikationsprozesse, Identitäten, soziale Beziehungen und Gruppen Hogrefe, Goettingen.
- Felson, Richard B (1984): An Interactionist Approach to Aggression, in: Tedeschi, James T. (Ed.), Impression Management Theory and Social Psychological Research Academic Press, New York.
- Hall, Peter (1972). "A Symbolic Interactionist Analysis of Politics." Sociological Inquiry 42.3-4: 35-75
- Hass, Glen R. (1981), Presentational Strategies, and the Social Expression of Attitudes: Impression management within Limits, in: Tedeschi, James T. (Ed.): Impression Management Theory and Social Psychological Research, Academic Press, New York.
- Herman, Peter C; Roth, Deborah A; Polivy, Janet (2003). "Effects of the Presence of Others on Food Intake: A Normative Interpretation". Psychological Bulletin. 129 (6): 873–86. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.129.6.873. PMID 14599286.
- Katz, Nathan (2016). "Impression Management, Super PACs and the 2012 Republican Primary." Symbolic Interaction 39.2: 175-95.
- Leary, Mark R; Kowalski, Robin M (1990). "Impression Management: A Literature Review and Two-Component Model". Psychological Bulletin. 107 (1): 34–47. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.107.1.34.
- Piwinger, Manfred; Ebert, Helmut (2001). "Impression Management: Wie aus Niemand Jemand wird". in: Bentele, Guenther et al. (Ed.), Kommunikationsmanagement: Strategien, Wissen, Lösungen. Luchterhand, Neuwied.
- Schlenker, Barry R. (1980). Impression Management: The Self-Concept, Social Identity, and Interpersonal Relations. Monterey, California: Brooks/Cole.
- Tedeschi, James T.; Riess, Marc (1984), Identities, the Phenomenal Self, and Laboratory Research, in: Tedeschi, James T. (Ed.): Impression Management Theory and Social Psychological Research, Academic Press, New York.
- Smith, Greg (2006), Erving Goffman, Routledge, New York.
- Rui, J. and M. A. Stefanone (2013). Strategic Management of Other-Provided Information Online: Personality and Network Variables. System Sciences (HICSS), 2013 46th Hawaii International Conference on.
- Define self-concept and discuss how we develop our self-concept.
- Define self-esteem and discuss how we develop self-esteem.
- Explain how social comparison theory and self-discrepancy theory influence self-perception.
- Discuss how social norms, family, culture, and media influence self-perception.
- Define self-presentation and discuss common self-presentation strategies.
Just as our perception of others affects how we communicate, so does our perception of ourselves. But what influences our self-perception? How much of our self is a product of our own making and how much of it is constructed based on how others react to us? How do we present ourselves to others in ways that maintain our sense of self or challenge how others see us? We will begin to answer these questions in this section as we explore self-concept, self-esteem, and self-presentation.
Self-concept refers to the overall idea of who a person thinks he or she is. If I said, “Tell me who you are,” your answers would be clues as to how you see yourself, your self-concept. Each person has an overall self-concept that might be encapsulated in a short list of overarching characteristics that he or she finds important. But each person’s self-concept is also influenced by context, meaning we think differently about ourselves depending on the situation we are in. In some situations, personal characteristics, such as our abilities, personality, and other distinguishing features, will best describe who we are. You might consider yourself laid back, traditional, funny, open minded, or driven, or you might label yourself a leader or a thrill seeker. In other situations, our self-concept may be tied to group or cultural membership. For example, you might consider yourself a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, a Southerner, or a member of the track team.
Our self-concept is also formed through our interactions with others and their reactions to us. The concept of the looking glass self explains that we see ourselves reflected in other people’s reactions to us and then form our self-concept based on how we believe other people see us (Cooley, 1902). This reflective process of building our self-concept is based on what other people have actually said, such as “You’re a good listener,” and other people’s actions, such as coming to you for advice. These thoughts evoke emotional responses that feed into our self-concept. For example, you may think, “I’m glad that people can count on me to listen to their problems.”
We also develop our self-concept through comparisons to other people. Social comparison theory states that we describe and evaluate ourselves in terms of how we compare to other people. Social comparisons are based on two dimensions: superiority/inferiority and similarity/difference (Hargie, 2011). In terms of superiority and inferiority, we evaluate characteristics like attractiveness, intelligence, athletic ability, and so on. For example, you may judge yourself to be more intelligent than your brother or less athletic than your best friend, and these judgments are incorporated into your self-concept. This process of comparison and evaluation isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can have negative consequences if our reference group isn’t appropriate. Reference groups are the groups we use for social comparison, and they typically change based on what we are evaluating. In terms of athletic ability, many people choose unreasonable reference groups with which to engage in social comparison. If a man wants to get into better shape and starts an exercise routine, he may be discouraged by his difficulty keeping up with the aerobics instructor or running partner and judge himself as inferior, which could negatively affect his self-concept. Using as a reference group people who have only recently started a fitness program but have shown progress could help maintain a more accurate and hopefully positive self-concept.
We also engage in social comparison based on similarity and difference. Since self-concept is context specific, similarity may be desirable in some situations and difference more desirable in others. Factors like age and personality may influence whether or not we want to fit in or stand out. Although we compare ourselves to others throughout our lives, adolescent and teen years usually bring new pressure to be similar to or different from particular reference groups. Think of all the cliques in high school and how people voluntarily and involuntarily broke off into groups based on popularity, interest, culture, or grade level. Some kids in your high school probably wanted to fit in with and be similar to other people in the marching band but be different from the football players. Conversely, athletes were probably more apt to compare themselves, in terms of similar athletic ability, to other athletes rather than kids in show choir. But social comparison can be complicated by perceptual influences. As we learned earlier, we organize information based on similarity and difference, but these patterns don’t always hold true. Even though students involved in athletics and students involved in arts may seem very different, a dancer or singer may also be very athletic, perhaps even more so than a member of the football team. As with other aspects of perception, there are positive and negative consequences of social comparison.
We generally want to know where we fall in terms of ability and performance as compared to others, but what people do with this information and how it affects self-concept varies. Not all people feel they need to be at the top of the list, but some won’t stop until they get the high score on the video game or set a new school record in a track-and-field event. Some people strive to be first chair in the clarinet section of the orchestra, while another person may be content to be second chair. The education system promotes social comparison through grades and rewards such as honor rolls and dean’s lists. Although education and privacy laws prevent me from displaying each student’s grade on a test or paper for the whole class to see, I do typically report the aggregate grades, meaning the total number of As, Bs, Cs, and so on. This doesn’t violate anyone’s privacy rights, but it allows students to see where they fell in the distribution. This type of social comparison can be used as motivation. The student who was one of only three out of twenty-three to get a D on the exam knows that most of her classmates are performing better than she is, which may lead her to think, “If they can do it, I can do it.” But social comparison that isn’t reasoned can have negative effects and result in negative thoughts like “Look at how bad I did. Man, I’m stupid!” These negative thoughts can lead to negative behaviors, because we try to maintain internal consistency, meaning we act in ways that match up with our self-concept. So if the student begins to question her academic abilities and then incorporates an assessment of herself as a “bad student” into her self-concept, she may then behave in ways consistent with that, which is only going to worsen her academic performance. Additionally, a student might be comforted to learn that he isn’t the only person who got a D and then not feel the need to try to improve, since he has company. You can see in this example that evaluations we place on our self-concept can lead to cycles of thinking and acting. These cycles relate to self-esteem and self-efficacy, which are components of our self-concept.
Men are more likely than women to include group memberships in their self-concept descriptions.
Stefano Ravalli – In control – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
Self-esteem refers to the judgments and evaluations we make about our self-concept. While self-concept is a broad description of the self, self-esteem is a more specifically an evaluation of the self (Byrne, 1996). If I again prompted you to “Tell me who you are,” and then asked you to evaluate (label as good/bad, positive/negative, desirable/undesirable) each of the things you listed about yourself, I would get clues about your self-esteem. Like self-concept, self-esteem has general and specific elements. Generally, some people are more likely to evaluate themselves positively while others are more likely to evaluate themselves negatively (Brockner, 1988). More specifically, our self-esteem varies across our life span and across contexts.
How we judge ourselves affects our communication and our behaviors, but not every negative or positive judgment carries the same weight. The negative evaluation of a trait that isn’t very important for our self-concept will likely not result in a loss of self-esteem. For example, I am not very good at drawing. While I appreciate drawing as an art form, I don’t consider drawing ability to be a very big part of my self-concept. If someone critiqued my drawing ability, my self-esteem wouldn’t take a big hit. I do consider myself a good teacher, however, and I have spent and continue to spend considerable time and effort on improving my knowledge of teaching and my teaching skills. If someone critiqued my teaching knowledge and/or abilities, my self-esteem would definitely be hurt. This doesn’t mean that we can’t be evaluated on something we find important. Even though teaching is very important to my self-concept, I am regularly evaluated on it. Every semester, I am evaluated by my students, and every year, I am evaluated by my dean, department chair, and colleagues. Most of that feedback is in the form of constructive criticism, which can still be difficult to receive, but when taken in the spirit of self-improvement, it is valuable and may even enhance our self-concept and self-esteem. In fact, in professional contexts, people with higher self-esteem are more likely to work harder based on negative feedback, are less negatively affected by work stress, are able to handle workplace conflict better, and are better able to work independently and solve problems (Brockner, 1988). Self-esteem isn’t the only factor that contributes to our self-concept; perceptions about our competence also play a role in developing our sense of self.
Self-Efficacy refers to the judgments people make about their ability to perform a task within a specific context (Bandura, 1997). As you can see in Figure 2.2 “Relationship between Self-Efficacy, Self-Esteem, and Self-Concept”, judgments about our self-efficacy influence our self-esteem, which influences our self-concept. The following example also illustrates these interconnections.
Pedro did a good job on his first college speech. During a meeting with his professor, Pedro indicates that he is confident going into the next speech and thinks he will do well. This skill-based assessment is an indication that Pedro has a high level of self-efficacy related to public speaking. If he does well on the speech, the praise from his classmates and professor will reinforce his self-efficacy and lead him to positively evaluate his speaking skills, which will contribute to his self-esteem. By the end of the class, Pedro likely thinks of himself as a good public speaker, which may then become an important part of his self-concept. Throughout these points of connection, it’s important to remember that self-perception affects how we communicate, behave, and perceive other things. Pedro’s increased feeling of self-efficacy may give him more confidence in his delivery, which will likely result in positive feedback that reinforces his self-perception. He may start to perceive his professor more positively since they share an interest in public speaking, and he may begin to notice other people’s speaking skills more during class presentations and public lectures. Over time, he may even start to think about changing his major to communication or pursuing career options that incorporate public speaking, which would further integrate being “a good public speaker” into his self-concept. You can hopefully see that these interconnections can create powerful positive or negative cycles. While some of this process is under our control, much of it is also shaped by the people in our lives.
The verbal and nonverbal feedback we get from people affect our feelings of self-efficacy and our self-esteem. As we saw in Pedro’s example, being given positive feedback can increase our self-efficacy, which may make us more likely to engage in a similar task in the future (Hargie, 2011). Obviously, negative feedback can lead to decreased self-efficacy and a declining interest in engaging with the activity again. In general, people adjust their expectations about their abilities based on feedback they get from others. Positive feedback tends to make people raise their expectations for themselves and negative feedback does the opposite, which ultimately affects behaviors and creates the cycle. When feedback from others is different from how we view ourselves, additional cycles may develop that impact self-esteem and self-concept.
Self-discrepancy theory states that people have beliefs about and expectations for their actual and potential selves that do not always match up with what they actually experience (Higgins, 1987). To understand this theory, we have to understand the different “selves” that make up our self-concept, which are the actual, ideal, and ought selves. The actual self consists of the attributes that you or someone else believes you actually possess. The ideal self consists of the attributes that you or someone else would like you to possess. The ought self consists of the attributes you or someone else believes you should possess.
These different selves can conflict with each other in various combinations. Discrepancies between the actual and ideal/ought selves can be motivating in some ways and prompt people to act for self-improvement. For example, if your ought self should volunteer more for the local animal shelter, then your actual self may be more inclined to do so. Discrepancies between the ideal and ought selves can be especially stressful. For example, many professional women who are also mothers have an ideal view of self that includes professional success and advancement. They may also have an ought self that includes a sense of duty and obligation to be a full-time mother. The actual self may be someone who does OK at both but doesn’t quite live up to the expectations of either. These discrepancies do not just create cognitive unease—they also lead to emotional, behavioral, and communicative changes.
When we compare the actual self to the expectations of ourselves and others, we can see particular patterns of emotional and behavioral effects. When our actual self doesn’t match up with our own ideals of self, we are not obtaining our own desires and hopes, which can lead to feelings of dejection including disappointment, dissatisfaction, and frustration. For example, if your ideal self has no credit card debt and your actual self does, you may be frustrated with your lack of financial discipline and be motivated to stick to your budget and pay off your credit card bills.
When our actual self doesn’t match up with other people’s ideals for us, we may not be obtaining significant others’ desires and hopes, which can lead to feelings of dejection including shame, embarrassment, and concern for losing the affection or approval of others. For example, if a significant other sees you as an “A” student and you get a 2.8 GPA your first year of college, then you may be embarrassed to share your grades with that person.
When our actual self doesn’t match up with what we think other people think we should obtain, we are not living up to the ought self that we think others have constructed for us, which can lead to feelings of agitation, feeling threatened, and fearing potential punishment. For example, if your parents think you should follow in their footsteps and take over the family business, but your actual self wants to go into the military, then you may be unsure of what to do and fear being isolated from the family.
Finally, when our actual self doesn’t match up with what we think we should obtain, we are not meeting what we see as our duties or obligations, which can lead to feelings of agitation including guilt, weakness, and a feeling that we have fallen short of our moral standard (Higgins, 1987). For example, if your ought self should volunteer more for the local animal shelter, then your actual self may be more inclined to do so due to the guilt of reading about the increasing number of animals being housed at the facility. The following is a review of the four potential discrepancies between selves:
- Actual vs. own ideals. We have an overall feeling that we are not obtaining our desires and hopes, which leads to feelings of disappointment, dissatisfaction, and frustration.
- Actual vs. others’ ideals. We have an overall feeling that we are not obtaining significant others’ desires and hopes for us, which leads to feelings of shame and embarrassment.
- Actual vs. others’ ought. We have an overall feeling that we are not meeting what others see as our duties and obligations, which leads to feelings of agitation including fear of potential punishment.
- Actual vs. own ought. We have an overall feeling that we are not meeting our duties and obligations, which can lead to a feeling that we have fallen short of our own moral standards.
Self-esteem varies throughout our lives, but some people generally think more positively of themselves and some people think more negatively.
RHiNO NEAL – [trophy] – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Figure 2.2 Relationship between Self-Efficacy, Self-Esteem, and Self-Concept
People who feel that it’s their duty to recycle but do not actually do it will likely experience a discrepancy between their actual and ought selves.
Matt Martin – Recycle – CC BY-NC 2.0.
Influences on Self-Perception
We have already learned that other people influence our self-concept and self-esteem. While interactions we have with individuals and groups are definitely important to consider, we must also note the influence that larger, more systemic forces have on our self-perception. Social and family influences, culture, and the media all play a role in shaping who we think we are and how we feel about ourselves. Although these are powerful socializing forces, there are ways to maintain some control over our self-perception.
Social and Family Influences
Various forces help socialize us into our respective social and cultural groups and play a powerful role in presenting us with options about who we can be. While we may like to think that our self-perception starts with a blank canvas, our perceptions are limited by our experiences and various social and cultural contexts.
Parents and peers shape our self-perceptions in positive and negative ways. Feedback that we get from significant others, which includes close family, can lead to positive views of self (Hargie, 2011). In the past few years, however, there has been a public discussion and debate about how much positive reinforcement people should give to others, especially children. The following questions have been raised: Do we have current and upcoming generations that have been overpraised? Is the praise given warranted? What are the positive and negative effects of praise? What is the end goal of the praise? Let’s briefly look at this discussion and its connection to self-perception.
Whether praise is warranted or not is very subjective and specific to each person and context, but in general there have been questions raised about the potential negative effects of too much praise. Motivation is the underlying force that drives us to do things. Sometimes we are intrinsically motivated, meaning we want to do something for the love of doing it or the resulting internal satisfaction. Other times we are extrinsically motivated, meaning we do something to receive a reward or avoid punishment. If you put effort into completing a short documentary for a class because you love filmmaking and editing, you have been largely motivated by intrinsic forces. If you complete the documentary because you want an “A” and know that if you fail your parents will not give you money for your spring break trip, then you are motivated by extrinsic factors. Both can, of course, effectively motivate us. Praise is a form of extrinsic reward, and if there is an actual reward associated with the praise, like money or special recognition, some people speculate that intrinsic motivation will suffer. But what’s so good about intrinsic motivation? Intrinsic motivation is more substantial and long-lasting than extrinsic motivation and can lead to the development of a work ethic and sense of pride in one’s abilities. Intrinsic motivation can move people to accomplish great things over long periods of time and be happy despite the effort and sacrifices made. Extrinsic motivation dies when the reward stops. Additionally, too much praise can lead people to have a misguided sense of their abilities. College professors who are reluctant to fail students who produce failing work may be setting those students up to be shocked when their supervisor critiques their abilities or output once they get into a professional context (Hargie, 2011).
There are cultural differences in the amount of praise and positive feedback that teachers and parents give their children. For example, teachers give less positive reinforcement in Japanese and Taiwanese classrooms than do teachers in US classrooms. Chinese and Kenyan parents do not regularly praise their children because they fear it may make them too individualistic, rude, or arrogant (Wierzbicka, 2004). So the phenomenon of overpraising isn’t universal, and the debate over its potential effects is not resolved.
Research has also found that communication patterns develop between parents and children that are common to many verbally and physically abusive relationships. Such patterns have negative effects on a child’s self-efficacy and self-esteem (Morgan & Wilson, 2007). As you’ll recall from our earlier discussion, attributions are links we make to identify the cause of a behavior. In the case of aggressive or abusive parents, they are not as able to distinguish between mistakes and intentional behaviors, often seeing honest mistakes as intended and reacting negatively to the child. Such parents also communicate generally negative evaluations to their child by saying, for example, “You can’t do anything right!” or “You’re a bad girl.” When children do exhibit positive behaviors, abusive parents are more likely to use external attributions that diminish the achievement of the child by saying, for example, “You only won because the other team was off their game.” In general, abusive parents have unpredictable reactions to their children’s positive and negative behavior, which creates an uncertain and often scary climate for a child that can lead to lower self-esteem and erratic or aggressive behavior. The cycles of praise and blame are just two examples of how the family as a socializing force can influence our self-perceptions. Culture also influences how we see ourselves.
Some experts have warned that overpraising children can lead to distorted self-concepts.
How people perceive themselves varies across cultures. For example, many cultures exhibit a phenomenon known as the self-enhancement bias, meaning that we tend to emphasize our desirable qualities relative to other people (Loughnan et al., 2011). But the degree to which people engage in self-enhancement varies. A review of many studies in this area found that people in Western countries such as the United States were significantly more likely to self-enhance than people in countries such as Japan. Many scholars explain this variation using a common measure of cultural variation that claims people in individualistic cultures are more likely to engage in competition and openly praise accomplishments than people in collectivistic cultures. The difference in self-enhancement has also been tied to economics, with scholars arguing that people in countries with greater income inequality are more likely to view themselves as superior to others or want to be perceived as superior to others (even if they don’t have economic wealth) in order to conform to the country’s values and norms. This holds true because countries with high levels of economic inequality, like the United States, typically value competition and the right to boast about winning or succeeding, while countries with more economic equality, like Japan, have a cultural norm of modesty (Loughnan, 2011).
Race also plays a role in self-perception. For example, positive self-esteem and self-efficacy tend to be higher in African American adolescent girls than Caucasian girls (Stockton et al., 2009). In fact, more recent studies have discounted much of the early research on race and self-esteem that purported that African Americans of all ages have lower self-esteem than whites. Self-perception becomes more complex when we consider biracial individuals—more specifically those born to couples comprising an African American and a white parent (Bowles, 1993). In such cases, it is challenging for biracial individuals to embrace both of their heritages, and social comparison becomes more difficult due to diverse and sometimes conflicting reference groups. Since many biracial individuals identify as and are considered African American by society, living and working within a black community can help foster more positive self-perceptions in these biracial individuals. Such a community offers a more nurturing environment and a buffer zone from racist attitudes but simultaneously distances biracial individuals from their white identity. Conversely, immersion into a predominantly white community and separation from a black community can lead biracial individuals to internalize negative views of people of color and perhaps develop a sense of inferiority. Gender intersects with culture and biracial identity to create different experiences and challenges for biracial men and women. Biracial men have more difficulty accepting their potential occupational limits, especially if they have white fathers, and biracial women have difficulty accepting their black features, such as hair and facial features. All these challenges lead to a sense of being marginalized from both ethnic groups and interfere in the development of positive self-esteem and a stable self-concept.
There are some general differences in terms of gender and self-perception that relate to self-concept, self-efficacy, and envisioning ideal selves. As with any cultural differences, these are generalizations that have been supported by research, but they do not represent all individuals within a group. Regarding self-concept, men are more likely to describe themselves in terms of their group membership, and women are more likely to include references to relationships in their self-descriptions. For example, a man may note that he is a Tarheel fan, a boat enthusiast, or a member of the Rotary Club, and a woman may note that she is a mother of two or a loyal friend.
Regarding self-efficacy, men tend to have higher perceptions of self-efficacy than women (Hargie, 2011). In terms of actual and ideal selves, men and women in a variety of countries both described their ideal self as more masculine (Best & Thomas, 2004). As was noted earlier, gender differences are interesting to study but are very often exaggerated beyond the actual variations. Socialization and internalization of societal norms for gender differences accounts for much more of our perceived differences than do innate or natural differences between genders. These gender norms may be explicitly stated—for example, a mother may say to her son, “Boys don’t play with dolls”—or they may be more implicit, with girls being encouraged to pursue historically feminine professions like teaching or nursing without others actually stating the expectation.
Biracial individuals may have challenges with self-perception as they try to integrate both racial identities into their self-concept.
The representations we see in the media affect our self-perception. The vast majority of media images include idealized representations of attractiveness. Despite the fact that the images of people we see in glossy magazines and on movie screens are not typically what we see when we look at the people around us in a classroom, at work, or at the grocery store, many of us continue to hold ourselves to an unrealistic standard of beauty and attractiveness. Movies, magazines, and television shows are filled with beautiful people, and less attractive actors, when they are present in the media, are typically portrayed as the butt of jokes, villains, or only as background extras (Patzer, 2008). Aside from overall attractiveness, the media also offers narrow representations of acceptable body weight.
Researchers have found that only 12 percent of prime-time characters are overweight, which is dramatically less than the national statistics for obesity among the actual US population (Patzer, 2008). Further, an analysis of how weight is discussed on prime-time sitcoms found that heavier female characters were often the targets of negative comments and jokes that audience members responded to with laughter. Conversely, positive comments about women’s bodies were related to their thinness. In short, the heavier the character, the more negative the comments, and the thinner the character, the more positive the comments. The same researchers analyzed sitcoms for content regarding male characters’ weight and found that although comments regarding their weight were made, they were fewer in number and not as negative, ultimately supporting the notion that overweight male characters are more accepted in media than overweight female characters. Much more attention has been paid in recent years to the potential negative effects of such narrow media representations. The following “Getting Critical” box explores the role of media in the construction of body image.
In terms of self-concept, media representations offer us guidance on what is acceptable or unacceptable and valued or not valued in our society. Mediated messages, in general, reinforce cultural stereotypes related to race, gender, age, sexual orientation, ability, and class. People from historically marginalized groups must look much harder than those in the dominant groups to find positive representations of their identities in media. As a critical thinker, it is important to question media messages and to examine who is included and who is excluded.
Advertising in particular encourages people to engage in social comparison, regularly communicating to us that we are inferior because we lack a certain product or that we need to change some aspect of our life to keep up with and be similar to others. For example, for many years advertising targeted to women instilled in them a fear of having a dirty house, selling them products that promised to keep their house clean, make their family happy, and impress their friends and neighbors. Now messages tell us to fear becoming old or unattractive, selling products to keep our skin tight and clear, which will in turn make us happy and popular.
Body Image and Self-Perception
Take a look at any magazine, television show, or movie and you will most likely see very beautiful people. When you look around you in your daily life, there are likely not as many glamorous and gorgeous people. Scholars and media critics have critiqued this discrepancy for decades because it has contributed to many social issues and public health issues ranging from body dysmorphic disorder, to eating disorders, to lowered self-esteem.
Much of the media is driven by advertising, and the business of media has been to perpetuate a “culture of lack” (Dworkin & Wachs, 2009). This means that we are constantly told, via mediated images, that we lack something. In short, advertisements often tell us we don’t have enough money, enough beauty, or enough material possessions. Over the past few decades, women’s bodies in the media have gotten smaller and thinner, while men’s bodies have gotten bigger and more muscular. At the same time, the US population has become dramatically more obese. As research shows that men and women are becoming more and more dissatisfied with their bodies, which ultimately affects their self-concept and self-esteem, health and beauty product lines proliferate and cosmetic surgeries and other types of enhancements become more and more popular. From young children to older adults, people are becoming more aware of and oftentimes unhappy with their bodies, which results in a variety of self-perception problems.
- How do you think the media influences your self-perception and body image?
- Describe the typical man that is portrayed in the media. Describe the typical woman that is portrayed in the media. What impressions do these typical bodies make on others? What are the potential positive and negative effects of the way the media portrays the human body?
- Find an example of an “atypical” body represented in the media (a magazine, TV show, or movie). Is this person presented in a positive, negative, or neutral way? Why do you think this person was chosen?
How we perceive ourselves manifests in how we present ourselves to others. Self-presentation is the process of strategically concealing or revealing personal information in order to influence others’ perceptions (Human et al., 2012). We engage in this process daily and for different reasons. Although people occasionally intentionally deceive others in the process of self-presentation, in general we try to make a good impression while still remaining authentic. Since self-presentation helps meet our instrumental, relational, and identity needs, we stand to lose quite a bit if we are caught intentionally misrepresenting ourselves. In May of 2012, Yahoo!’s CEO resigned after it became known that he stated on official documents that he had two college degrees when he actually only had one. In a similar incident, a woman who had long served as the dean of admissions for the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology was dismissed from her position after it was learned that she had only attended one year of college and had falsely indicated she had a bachelor’s and master’s degree (Webber & Korn, 2012). Such incidents clearly show that although people can get away with such false self-presentation for a while, the eventual consequences of being found out are dire. As communicators, we sometimes engage in more subtle forms of inauthentic self-presentation. For example, a person may state or imply that they know more about a subject or situation than they actually do in order to seem smart or “in the loop.” During a speech, a speaker works on a polished and competent delivery to distract from a lack of substantive content. These cases of strategic self-presentation may not ever be found out, but communicators should still avoid them as they do not live up to the standards of ethical communication.
Consciously and competently engaging in self-presentation can have benefits because we can provide others with a more positive and accurate picture of who we are. People who are skilled at impression management are typically more engaging and confident, which allows others to pick up on more cues from which to form impressions (Human et al., 2012). Being a skilled self-presenter draws on many of the practices used by competent communicators, including becoming a higher self-monitor. When self-presentation skills and self-monitoring skills combine, communicators can simultaneously monitor their own expressions, the reaction of others, and the situational and social context (Sosik, Avolio, & Jung, 2002). Sometimes people get help with their self-presentation. Although most people can’t afford or wouldn’t think of hiring an image consultant, some people have started generously donating their self-presentation expertise to help others. Many people who have been riding the tough job market for a year or more get discouraged and may consider giving up on their job search. Now a project called “Style Me Hired” has started offering free makeovers to jobless people in order to offer them new motivation and help them make favorable impressions and hopefully get a job offer.
There are two main types of self-presentation: prosocial and self-serving (Sosik, Avolio, & Jung, 2002). Prosocial self-presentation entails behaviors that present a person as a role model and make a person more likable and attractive. For example, a supervisor may call on her employees to uphold high standards for business ethics, model that behavior in her own actions, and compliment others when they exemplify those standards. Self-serving self-presentation entails behaviors that present a person as highly skilled, willing to challenge others, and someone not to be messed with. For example, a supervisor may publicly take credit for the accomplishments of others or publicly critique an employee who failed to meet a particular standard. In summary, prosocial strategies are aimed at benefiting others, while self-serving strategies benefit the self at the expense of others.
In general, we strive to present a public image that matches up with our self-concept, but we can also use self-presentation strategies to enhance our self-concept (Hargie, 2011). When we present ourselves in order to evoke a positive evaluative response, we are engaging in self-enhancement. In the pursuit of self-enhancement, a person might try to be as appealing as possible in a particular area or with a particular person to gain feedback that will enhance one’s self-esteem. For example, a singer might train and practice for weeks before singing in front of a well-respected vocal coach but not invest as much effort in preparing to sing in front of friends. Although positive feedback from friends is beneficial, positive feedback from an experienced singer could enhance a person’s self-concept. Self-enhancement can be productive and achieved competently, or it can be used inappropriately. Using self-enhancement behaviors just to gain the approval of others or out of self-centeredness may lead people to communicate in ways that are perceived as phony or overbearing and end up making an unfavorable impression (Sosik, Avolio, & Jung, 2002).
“Getting Plugged In”
Self-Presentation Online: Social Media, Digital Trails, and Your Reputation
Although social networking has long been a way to keep in touch with friends and colleagues, the advent of social media has made the process of making connections and those all-important first impressions much more complex. Just looking at Facebook as an example, we can clearly see that the very acts of constructing a profile, posting status updates, “liking” certain things, and sharing various information via Facebook features and apps is self-presentation (Kim & Lee, 2011). People also form impressions based on the number of friends we have and the photos and posts that other people tag us in. All this information floating around can be difficult to manage. So how do we manage the impressions we make digitally given that there is a permanent record?
Research shows that people overall engage in positive and honest self-presentation on Facebook (Kim & Lee, 2011). Since people know how visible the information they post is, they may choose to only reveal things they think will form favorable impressions. But the mediated nature of Facebook also leads some people to disclose more personal information than they might otherwise in such a public or semipublic forum. These hyperpersonal disclosures run the risk of forming negative impressions based on who sees them. In general, the ease of digital communication, not just on Facebook, has presented new challenges for our self-control and information management. Sending someone a sexually provocative image used to take some effort before the age of digital cameras, but now “sexting” an explicit photo only takes a few seconds. So people who would have likely not engaged in such behavior before are more tempted to now, and it is the desire to present oneself as desirable or cool that leads people to send photos they may later regret (DiBlasio, 2012). In fact, new technology in the form of apps is trying to give people a little more control over the exchange of digital information. An iPhone app called “Snapchat” allows users to send photos that will only be visible for a few seconds. Although this isn’t a guaranteed safety net, the demand for such apps is increasing, which illustrates the point that we all now leave digital trails of information that can be useful in terms of our self-presentation but can also create new challenges in terms of managing the information floating around from which others may form impressions of us.
- What impressions do you want people to form of you based on the information they can see on your Facebook page?
- Have you ever used social media or the Internet to do “research” on a person? What things would you find favorable and unfavorable?
- Do you have any guidelines you follow regarding what information about yourself you will put online or not? If so, what are they? If not, why?
- Our self-concept is the overall idea of who we think we are. It is developed through our interactions with others and through social comparison that allows us to compare our beliefs and behaviors to others.
- Our self-esteem is based on the evaluations and judgments we make about various characteristics of our self-concept. It is developed through an assessment and evaluation of our various skills and abilities, known as self-efficacy, and through a comparison and evaluation of who we are, who we would like to be, and who we should be (self-discrepancy theory).
- Social comparison theory and self-discrepancy theory affect our self-concept and self-esteem because through comparison with others and comparison of our actual, ideal, and ought selves we make judgments about who we are and our self-worth. These judgments then affect how we communicate and behave.
- Socializing forces like family, culture, and media affect our self-perception because they give us feedback on who we are. This feedback can be evaluated positively or negatively and can lead to positive or negative patterns that influence our self-perception and then our communication.
- Self-presentation refers to the process of strategically concealing and/or revealing personal information in order to influence others’ perceptions. Prosocial self-presentation is intended to benefit others and self-serving self-presentation is intended to benefit the self at the expense of others. People also engage in self-enhancement, which is a self-presentation strategy by which people intentionally seek out positive evaluations.
- Make a list of characteristics that describe who you are (your self-concept). After looking at the list, see if you can come up with a few words that summarize the list to narrow in on the key features of your self-concept. Go back over the first list and evaluate each characteristic, for example noting whether it is something you do well/poorly, something that is good/bad, positive/negative, desirable/undesirable. Is the overall list more positive or more negative? After doing these exercises, what have you learned about your self-concept and self-esteem?
- Discuss at least one time in which you had a discrepancy or tension between two of the three selves described by self-discrepancy theory (the actual, ideal, and ought selves). What effect did this discrepancy have on your self-concept and/or self-esteem?
- Take one of the socializing forces discussed (family, culture, or media) and identify at least one positive and one negative influence that it/they have had on your self-concept and/or self-esteem.
- Getting integrated: Discuss some ways that you might strategically engage in self-presentation to influence the impressions of others in an academic, a professional, a personal, and a civic context.
People who have been out of work for a while may have difficulty finding the motivation to engage in the self-presentation behaviors needed to form favorable impressions.
Bandura, A., Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control (New York, NY: W. H. Freeman, 1997).
Best, D. L. and Jennifer J. Thomas, “Cultural Diversity and Cross-Cultural Perspectives,” in The Psychology of Gender, 2nd ed., eds. Alice H. Eagly, Anne E. Beall, and Robert J. Sternberg (New York, NY: Guilford Press, 2004), 296–327.
Bowles, D. D., “Biracial Identity: Children Born to African-American and White Couples,” Clinical Social Work Journal 21, no. 4 (1993): 418–22.
Brockner, J., Self-Esteem at Work (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1988), 11.
Byrne, B. M., Measuring Self-Concept across the Life Span: Issues and Instrumentation (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 1996), 5.
Cooley, C., Human Nature and the Social Order (New York, NY: Scribner, 1902).
DiBlasio, N., “Demand for Photo-Erasing iPhone App Heats up Sexting Debate,” USA Today, May 7, 2012, accessed June 6, 2012, http://content.usatoday.com/communities/ondeadline/post/2012/05/demand-for-photo-erasing-iphone-app-heats-up-sexting-debate/1.
Dworkin, S. L. and Faye Linda Wachs, Body Panic (New York, NY: New York University Press, 2009), 2.
Hargie, O., Skilled Interpersonal Interaction: Research, Theory, and Practice (London: Routledge, 2011), 261.
Higgins, E. T., “Self-Discrepancy: A Theory Relating Self and Affect,” Psychological Review 94, no. 3 (1987): 320–21.
Human, L. J., et al., “Your Best Self Helps Reveal Your True Self: Positive Self-Presentation Leads to More Accurate Personality Impressions,” Social Psychological and Personality Sciences 3, no. 1 (2012): 23.
Kim, J. and Jong-Eun Roselyn Lee, “The Facebook Paths to Happiness: Effects of the Number of Facebook Friends and Self-Presentation on Subjective Well-Being,” Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking 14, no. 6 (2011): 360.
Loughnan, S., et al., “Economic Inequality Is Linked to Biased Self-Perception,” Psychological Science 22, no. 10 (2011): 1254.
Morgan, W. and Steven R. Wilson, “Explaining Child Abuse as a Lack of Safe Ground,” in The Dark Side of Interpersonal Communication, eds. Brian H. Spitzberg and William R. Cupach (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2007), 341.
Patzer, G. L., Looks: Why They Matter More than You Ever Imagined (New York, NY: AMACOM, 2008), 147.
Sosik, J. J., Bruce J. Avolio, and Dong I. Jung, “Beneath the Mask: Examining the Relationship of Self-Presentation Attributes and Impression Management to Charismatic Leadership,” The Leadership Quarterly 13 (2002): 217.
Stockton, M. B., et al., “Self-Perception and Body Image Associations with Body Mass Index among 8–10-Year-Old African American Girls,” Journal of Pediatric Psychology 34, no. 10 (2009): 1144.
Webber, L., and Melissa Korn, “Yahoo’s CEO among Many Notable Resume Flaps,” Wall Street Journal Blogs, May 7, 2012, accessed June 9, 2012, http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2012/05/07/yahoos-ceo-among-many-notable-resume-flaps.
Wierzbicka, A., “The English Expressions Good Boy and Good Girl and Cultural Models of Child Rearing,” Culture and Psychology 10, no. 3 (2004): 251–78.
This is a derivative of Communication in the Real World: An Introduction to Communication Studies by a publisher who has requested that they and the original author not receive attribution, which was originally released and is used under CC BY-NC-SA. This work, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.