Learn more

How it works

Transform your enterprise with the scalable mindsets, skills, & behavior change that drive performance.

Explore how BetterUp connects to your core business systems.

We pair AI with the latest in human-centered coaching to drive powerful, lasting learning and behavior change.

Build leaders that accelerate team performance and engagement.

Unlock performance potential at scale with AI-powered curated growth journeys.

Build resilience, well-being and agility to drive performance across your entire enterprise.

Transform your business, starting with your sales leaders.

Unlock business impact from the top with executive coaching.

Foster a culture of inclusion and belonging.

Accelerate the performance and potential of your agencies and employees.

See how innovative organizations use BetterUp to build a thriving workforce.

Discover how BetterUp measurably impacts key business outcomes for organizations like yours.

A demo is the first step to transforming your business. Meet with us to develop a plan for attaining your goals.

Request a demo

  • What is coaching?

Learn how 1:1 coaching works, who its for, and if it's right for you.

Accelerate your personal and professional growth with the expert guidance of a BetterUp Coach.

Types of Coaching

Navigate career transitions, accelerate your professional growth, and achieve your career goals with expert coaching.

Enhance your communication skills for better personal and professional relationships, with tailored coaching that focuses on your needs.

Find balance, resilience, and well-being in all areas of your life with holistic coaching designed to empower you.

Discover your perfect match : Take our 5-minute assessment and let us pair you with one of our top Coaches tailored just for you.

Find your Coach

Best practices, research, and tools to fuel individual and business growth.

View on-demand BetterUp events and learn about upcoming live discussions.

The latest insights and ideas for building a high-performing workplace.

  • BetterUp Briefing

The online magazine that helps you understand tomorrow's workforce trends, today.

Innovative research featured in peer-reviewed journals, press, and more.

Founded in 2022 to deepen the understanding of the intersection of well-being, purpose, and performance

We're on a mission to help everyone live with clarity, purpose, and passion.

Join us and create impactful change.

Read the buzz about BetterUp.

Meet the leadership that's passionate about empowering your workforce.

Find your Coach

For Business

For Individuals

The self presentation theory and how to present your best self

Understand Yourself Better:

Big 5 Personality Test

Find my Coach

Jump to section

What does self presentation mean?

What are self presentation goals, individual differences and self presentation.

How can you make the most of the self presentation theory at work?  

We all want others to see us as confident, competent, and likeable — even if we don’t necessarily feel that way all the time. In fact, we make dozens of decisions every day — whether consciously or unconsciously — to get people to see us as we want to be seen. But is this kind of self presentation dishonest? Shouldn’t we just be ourselves?

Success requires interacting with other people. We can’t control the other side of those interactions. But we can think about how the other person might see us and make choices about what we want to convey. 

Self presentation is any behavior or action made with the intention to influence or change how other people see you. Anytime we're trying to get people to think of us a certain way, it's an act of self presentation. Generally speaking, we work to present ourselves as favorably as possible. What that means can vary depending on the situation and the other person.

Although at first glance this may seem disingenuous, we all engage in self-presentation. We want to make sure that we show up in a way that not only makes us look good, but makes us feel good about ourselves.

Early research on self presentation focused on narcissism and sociopathy, and how people might use the impression others have of them to manipulate others for their benefit. However, self presentation and manipulation are distinct. After all, managing the way others see us works for their benefit as well as ours.

Imagine, for example, a friend was complaining to you about   a tough time they were having at work . You may want to show up as a compassionate person. However, it also benefits your friend — they feel heard and able to express what is bothering them when you appear to be present, attentive, and considerate of their feelings. In this case, you’d be conscious of projecting a caring image, even if your mind was elsewhere, because you value the relationship and your friend’s experience.

To some extent, every aspect of our lives depends on successful self-presentation. We want our families to feel that we are worthy of attention and love. We present ourselves as studious and responsible to our teachers. We want to seem fun and interesting at a party, and confident at networking events. Even landing a job depends on you convincing the interviewer that you are the best person for the role.

There are three main reasons why people engage in self presentation:

Tangible or social benefits:

In order to achieve the results we want, it often requires that we behave a certain way. In other words, certain behaviors are desirable in certain situations. Matching our behavior to the circumstances can help us connect to others,   develop a sense of belonging , and attune to the needs and feelings of others.

Example:   Michelle is   a new manager . At her first leadership meeting, someone makes a joke that she doesn’t quite get. When everyone else laughs, she smiles, even though she’s not sure why.

By laughing along with the joke, Michelle is trying to fit in and appear “in the know.” Perhaps more importantly, she avoids feeling (or at least appearing) left out, humorless, or revealing that she didn’t get it — which may hurt her confidence and how she interacts with the group in the future.

To facilitate social interaction:

As mentioned, certain circumstances and roles call for certain behaviors. Imagine a defense attorney. Do you think of them a certain way? Do you have expectations for what they do — or don’t — do? If you saw them frantically searching for their car keys, would you feel confident with them defending your case?

If the answer is no, then you have a good idea of why self presentation is critical to social functioning. We’re surprised when people don’t present themselves in a way that we feel is consistent with the demands of their role. Having an understanding of what is expected of you — whether at home, work, or in relationships — may help you succeed by inspiring confidence in others.

Example:   Christopher has always been called a “know-it-all.” He reads frequently and across a variety of topics, but gets nervous and tends to talk over people. When attending a networking event, he is uncharacteristically quiet. Even though he would love to speak up, he’s afraid of being seen as someone who “dominates” the conversation. 

Identity Construction:

It’s not enough for us to declare who we are or what we want to be — we have to take actions consistent with that identity. In many cases, we also have to get others to buy into this image of ourselves as well. Whether it’s a personality trait or a promotion, it can be said that we’re not who   we   think we are, but who others see.

Example:   Jordan is interested in moving to a client-facing role. However, in their last performance review, their manager commented that Jordan seemed “more comfortable working independently.” 

Declaring themselves a “people person” won’t make Jordan’s manager see them any differently. In order to gain their manager’s confidence, Jordan will have to show up as someone who can comfortably engage with clients and thrive in their new role.

We may also use self presentation to reinforce a desired identity for ourselves. If we want to accomplish something, make a change, or   learn a new skill , making it public is a powerful strategy. There's a reason why people who share their goals are more likely to be successful. The positive pressure can help us stay accountable to our commitments in a way that would be hard to accomplish alone.

Example:   Fatima wants to run a 5K. She’s signed up for a couple before, but her perfectionist tendencies lead her to skip race day because she feels she hasn’t trained enough. However, when her friend asks her to run a 5K with her, she shows up without a second thought.

In Fatima’s case, the positive pressure — along with the desire to serve a more important value (friendship) — makes showing up easy.

Because we spend so much time with other people (and our success largely depends on what they think of us), we all curate our appearance in one way or another. However, we don’t all desire to have people see us in the same way or to achieve the same goals. Our experiences and outcomes may vary based on a variety of factors.

One important factor is our level of self-monitoring when we interact with others. Some people are particularly concerned about creating a good impression, while others are uninterested. This can vary not only in individuals, but by circumstances.   A person may feel very confident at work , but nervous about making a good impression on a first date.

Another factor is self-consciousness — that is, how aware people are of themselves in a given circumstance. People that score high on scales of public self-consciousness are aware of how they come across socially. This tends to make it easier for them to align their behavior with the perception that they want others to have of them.

Finally, it's not enough to simply want other people to see you differently. In order to successfully change how other people perceive you, need to have three main skills: 

1. Perception and empathy

Successful self-presentation depends on being able to correctly perceive   how people are feeling , what's important to them, and which traits you need to project in order to achieve your intended outcomes.

2. Motivation

If we don’t have a compelling reason to change the perception that others have of us, we are not likely to try to change our behavior. Your desire for a particular outcome, whether it's social or material, creates a sense of urgency.

3.  A matching skill set

You’ve got to be able to walk the talk. Your actions will convince others more than anything you say. In other words, you have to provide evidence that you are the person you say you are. You may run into challenges if you're trying to portray yourself as skilled in an area where you actually lack experience.

How can you make the most of the self presentation theory at work?

At its heart, self presentation requires a high-level of self awareness and empathy. In order to make sure that we're showing up as our best in every circumstance — and with each person — we have to be aware of our own motivation as well as what would make the biggest difference to the person in front of us.

Here are 6 strategies to learn to make the most of the self-presentation theory in your career:

1. Get feedback from people around you

Ask a trusted friend or mentor to share what you can improve. Asking for feedback about specific experiences, like a recent project or presentation, will make their suggestions more relevant and easier to implement.

2. Study people who have been successful in your role

Look at how they interact with other people. How do you perceive them? Have they had to cultivate particular skills or ways of interacting with others that may not have come easily to them?

3. Be yourself

Look for areas where you naturally excel and stand out. If you feel comfortable, confident, and happy, you’ll have an easier time projecting that to others. It’s much harder to present yourself as confident when you’re uncomfortable.

4. Be aware that you may mess up

As you work to master new skills and ways of interacting with others,   keep asking for feedback . Talk to your manager, team, or a trusted friend about how you came across. If you sense that you’ve missed the mark, address it candidly. People will understand, and you’ll learn more quickly.

Try saying, “I hope that didn’t come across as _______. I want you to know that…”

5. Work with a coach

Coaches are skilled in interpersonal communication and committed to your success. Roleplay conversations to see how they land, and practice what you’ll say and do in upcoming encounters. Over time, a coach will also begin to know you well enough to notice patterns and suggest areas for improvement.

6. The identity is in the details

Don’t forget about the other aspects of your presentation. Take a moment to visualize yourself being the way that you want to be seen. Are there certain details that would make you feel more like that person? Getting organized, refreshing your wardrobe, rewriting your resume, and even cleaning your home office can all serve as powerful affirmations of your next-level self.

Self presentation is defined as the way we try to control how others see us, but it’s just as much about how we see ourselves. It is a skill to achieve a level of comfort with who we are   and   feel confident to choose how we self-present. Consciously working to make sure others get to see the very best of you is a wonderful way to develop into the person you want to be.

New call-to-action

Allaya Cooks-Campbell

BetterUp Associate Learning Experience Designer

Impression management: Developing your self-presentation skills

How to make a presentation interactive and exciting, 6 presentation skills and how to improve them, what is self-preservation 5 skills for achieving it, how to give a good presentation that captivates any audience, how self-knowledge builds success: self-awareness in the workplace, 8 clever hooks for presentations (with tips), developing psychological flexibility, how to not be nervous for a presentation — 13 tips that work (really), similar articles, how self-compassion strengthens resilience, what is self-efficacy definition and 7 ways to improve it, what is self-awareness and how to develop it, what i didn't know before working with a coach: the power of reflection, manage your energy, not your time: how to work smarter and faster, building resilience part 6: what is self-efficacy, why learning from failure is your key to success, stay connected with betterup, get our newsletter, event invites, plus product insights and research..

3100 E 5th Street, Suite 350 Austin, TX 78702

  • Platform Overview
  • Integrations
  • Powered by AI
  • BetterUp Lead
  • BetterUp Manage™
  • BetterUp Care™
  • Sales Performance
  • Diversity & Inclusion
  • Case Studies
  • Why BetterUp?
  • About Coaching
  • Find your Coach
  • Career Coaching
  • Communication Coaching
  • Life Coaching
  • News and Press
  • Leadership Team
  • Become a BetterUp Coach
  • BetterUp Labs
  • Center for Purpose & Performance
  • Leadership Training
  • Business Coaching
  • Contact Support
  • Contact Sales
  • Privacy Policy
  • Acceptable Use Policy
  • Trust & Security
  • Cookie Preferences

Impression Management: Erving Goffman Theory

Charlotte Nickerson

Research Assistant at Harvard University

Undergraduate at Harvard University

Charlotte Nickerson is a student at Harvard University obsessed with the intersection of mental health, productivity, and design.

Learn about our Editorial Process

Saul Mcleod, PhD

Editor-in-Chief for Simply Psychology

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

On This Page:

  • Impression management refers to the goal-directed conscious or unconscious attempt to influence the perceptions of other people about a person, object, or event by regulating and controlling information in social interaction.
  • Generally, people undertake impression management to achieve goals that require they have a desired public image. This activity is called self-presentation.
  • In sociology and social psychology, self-presentation is the conscious or unconscious process through which people try to control the impressions other people form of them.
  • The goal is for one to present themselves the way in which they would like to be thought of by the individual or group they are interacting with. This form of management generally applies to the first impression.
  • Erving Goffman popularized the concept of perception management in his book, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life , where he argues that impression management not only influences how one is treated by other people but is an essential part of social interaction.

Impression Management

Impression Management in Sociology

Impression management, also known as self-presentation, refers to the ways that people attempt to control how they are perceived by others (Goffman, 1959).

By conveying particular impressions about their abilities, attitudes, motives, status, emotional reactions, and other characteristics, people can influence others to respond to them in desirable ways.

Impression management is a common way for people to influence one another in order to obtain various goals.

While earlier theorists (e.g., Burke, 1950; Hart & Burk, 1972) offered perspectives on the person as a performer, Goffman (1959) was the first to develop a specific theory concerning self-presentation.

In his well-known work, Goffman created the foundation and the defining principles of what is commonly referred to as impression management.

In explicitly laying out a purpose for his work, Goffman (1959) proposes to “consider the ways in which the individual in ordinary work situations presents himself and his activity to others, the ways in which he guides and controls the impression they form of him, and the kind of things he may or may not do while sustaining his performance before them.” (p. xi)

Social Interaction

Goffman viewed impression management not only as a means of influencing how one is treated by other people but also as an essential part of social interaction.

He communicates this view through the conceit of theatre. Actors give different performances in front of different audiences, and the actors and the audience cooperate in negotiating and maintaining the definition of a situation.

To Goffman, the self was not a fixed thing that resides within individuals but a social process. For social interactions to go smoothly, every interactant needs to project a public identity that guides others’ behaviors (Goffman, 1959, 1963; Leary, 2001; Tseelon, 1992).

Goffman defines that when people enter the presence of others, they communicate information by verbal intentional methods and by non-verbal unintentional methods.

According to Goffman, individuals participate in social interactions through performing a “line” or “a pattern of verbal and nonverbal acts by which he expresses his view of the situation and through this his evaluation of the participants, especially himself” (1967, p. 5).

Such lines are created and maintained by both the performer and the audience. By enacting a line effectively, a person gains positive social value or “face.”

The verbal intentional methods allow us to establish who we are and what we wish to communicate directly. We must use these methods for the majority of the actual communication of data.

Goffman is mostly interested in the non-verbal clues given off which are less easily manipulated. When these clues are manipulated the receiver generally still has the upper hand in determining how realistic the clues that are given off are.

People use these clues to determine how to treat a person and if the intentional verbal responses given off are actually honest. It is also known that most people give off clues that help to represent them in a positive light, which tends to be compensated for by the receiver.

Impression Management Techniques

  • Suppressing emotions : Maintaining self-control (which we will identify with such practices as speaking briefly and modestly).
  • Conforming to Situational Norms : The performer follows agreed-upon rules for behavior in the organization.
  • Flattering Others : The performer compliments the perceiver. This tactic works best when flattery is not extreme and when it involves a dimension important to the perceiver.
  • Being Consistent : The performer’s beliefs and behaviors are consistent. There is agreement between the performer’s verbal and nonverbal behaviors.

Self-Presentation Examples

Self-presentation can affect the emotional experience . For example, people can become socially anxious when they are motivated to make a desired impression on others but doubt that they can do so successfully (Leary, 2001).

In one paper on self-presentation and emotional experience, Schlenker and Leary (1982) argue that, in contrast to the drive models of anxiety, the cognitive state of the individual mediates both arousal and behavior.

The researchers examine the traditional inverted-U anxiety-performance curve (popularly known as the Yerkes-Dodson law) in this light.

The researchers propose that people are interpersonally secure when they do not have the goal of creating a particular impression on others.

They are not immediately concerned about others’ evaluative reactions in a social setting where they are attempting to create a particular impression and believe that they will be successful in doing so.

Meanwhile, people are anxious when they are uncertain about how to go about creating a certain impression (such as when they do not know what sort of attributes the other person is likely to be impressed with), think that they will not be able to project the types of images that will produce preferred reactions from others.

Such people think that they will not be able to project the desired image strongly enough or believe that some event will happen that will repudiate their self-presentations, causing reputational damage (Schlenker and Leary, 1982).

Psychologists have also studied impression management in the context of mental and physical health .

In one such study, Braginsky et al. (1969) showed that those hospitalized with schizophrenia modify the severity of their “disordered” behavior depending on whether making a more or less “disordered” impression would be most beneficial to them (Leary, 2001).

Additional research on university students shows that people may exaggerate or even fabricate reports of psychological distress when doing so for their social goals.

Hypochondria appears to have self-presentational features where people convey impressions of illness and injury, when doing so helps to drive desired outcomes such as eliciting support or avoiding responsibilities (Leary, 2001).

People can also engage in dangerous behaviors for self-presentation reasons such as suntanning, unsafe sex, and fast driving. People may also refuse needed medical treatment if seeking this medical treatment compromises public image (Leary et al., 1994).

Key Components

There are several determinants of impression management, and people have many reasons to monitor and regulate how others perceive them.

For example, social relationships such as friendship, group membership, romantic relationships, desirable jobs, status, and influence rely partly on other people perceiving the individual as being a particular kind of person or having certain traits.

Because people’s goals depend on them making desired impressions over undesired impressions, people are concerned with the impressions other people form of them.

Although people appear to monitor how they come across ongoingly, the degree to which they are motivated to impression manage and the types of impressions they try to foster varies by situation and individuals (Leary, 2001).

Leary and Kowalski (1990) say that there are two processes that constitute impression management, each of which operate according to different principles and are affected by different situations and dispositional aspects. The first of these processes is impression motivation, and the second is impression construction.

Impression Motivation

There are three main factors that affect how much people are motivated to impression-manage in a situation (Leary and Kowalski, 1990):

(1) How much people believe their public images are relevant to them attaining their desired goals.

When people believe that their public image is relevant to them achieving their goals, they are generally more motivated to control how others perceive them (Leary, 2001).

Conversely, when the impressions of other people have few implications on one’s outcomes, that person’s motivation to impression-manage will be lower.

This is why people are more likely to impression manage in their interactions with powerful, high-status people than those who are less powerful and have lower status (Leary, 2001).

(2) How valuable the goals are: people are also more likely to impress and manage the more valuable the goals for which their public impressions are relevant (Leary, 2001).

(3) how much of a discrepancy there is between how they want to be perceived and how they believe others perceive them..

People are more highly motivated to impression-manage when there is a difference between how they want to be perceived and how they believe others perceive them.

For example, public scandals and embarrassing events that convey undesirable impressions can cause people to make self-presentational efforts to repair what they see as their damaged reputations (Leary, 2001).

Impression Construction

Features of the social situations that people find themselves in, as well as their own personalities, determine the nature of the impressions that they try to convey.

In particular, Leary and Kowalski (1990) name five sets of factors that are especially important in impression construction (Leary, 2001).

Two of these factors include how people’s relationships with themselves (self-concept and desired identity), and three involve how people relate to others (role constraints, target value, and current or potential social image) (Leary and Kowalski, 1990).

Self-concept

The impressions that people try to create are influenced not only by social context but also by one’s own self-concept .

People usually want others to see them as “how they really are” (Leary, 2001), but this is in tension with the fact that people must deliberately manage their impressions in order to be viewed accurately by others (Goffman, 1959).

People’s self-concepts can also constrain the images they try to convey.

People often believe that it is unethical to present impressions of themselves different from how they really are and generally doubt that they would successfully be able to sustain a public image inconsistent with their actual characteristics (Leary, 2001).

This risk of failure in portraying a deceptive image and the accompanying social sanctions deter people from presenting impressions discrepant from how they see themselves (Gergen, 1968; Jones and Pittman, 1982; Schlenker, 1980).

People can differ in how congruent their self-presentations are with their self-perceptions.

People who are high in public self-consciousness have less congruency between their private and public selves than those lower in public self-consciousness (Tunnell, 1984; Leary and Kowalski, 1990).

Desired identity

People’s desired and undesired selves – how they wish to be and not be on an internal level – also influence the images that they try to project.

Schlenker (1985) defines a desirable identity image as what a person “would like to be and thinks he or she really can be, at least at his or her best.”

People have a tendency to manage their impressions so that their images coincide with their desired selves and stay away from images that coincide with their undesired selves (Ogilivie, 1987; Schlenker, 1985; Leary, 2001).

This happens when people publicly claim attributes consistent with their desired identity and openly reject identities that they do not want to be associated with.

For example, someone who abhors bigots may take every step possible to not appear bigoted, and Gergen and Taylor (1969) showed that high-status navel cadets did not conform to low-status navel cadets because they did not want to see themselves as conformists (Leary and Kowalski, 1990).

Target value

people tailor their self-presentations to the values of the individuals whose perceptions they are concerned with.

This may lead to people sometimes fabricating identities that they think others will value.

However, more commonly, people selectively present truthful aspects of themselves that they believe coincide with the values of the person they are targeting the impression to and withhold information that they think others will value negatively (Leary, 2001).

Role constraints

the content of people’s self-presentations is affected by the roles that they take on and the norms of their social context.

In general, people want to convey impressions consistent with their roles and norms .

Many roles even carry self-presentational requirements around the kinds of impressions that the people who hold the roles should and should not convey (Leary, 2001).

Current or potential social image

People’s public image choices are also influenced by how they think they are perceived by others. As in impression motivation, self-presentational behaviors can often be aimed at dispelling undesired impressions that others hold about an individual.

When people believe that others have or are likely to develop an undesirable impression of them, they will typically try to refute that negative impression by showing that they are different from how others believe them to be.

When they are not able to refute this negative impression, they may project desirable impressions in other aspects of their identity (Leary, 2001).

Implications

In the presence of others, few of the behaviors that people make are unaffected by their desire to maintain certain impressions. Even when not explicitly trying to create a particular impression of themselves, people are constrained by concerns about their public image.

Generally, this manifests with people trying not to create undesired impressions in virtually all areas of social life (Leary, 2001).

Tedeschi et al. (1971) argued that phenomena that psychologists previously attributed to peoples’ need to have cognitive consistency actually reflected efforts to maintain an impression of consistency in others’ eyes.

Studies have supported Tedeschi and their colleagues’ suggestion that phenomena previously attributed to cognitive dissonance were actually affected by self-presentational processes (Schlenker, 1980).

Psychologists have applied self-presentation to their study of phenomena as far-ranging as conformity, aggression, prosocial behavior, leadership, negotiation, social influence, gender, stigmatization, and close relationships (Baumeister, 1982; Leary, 1995; Schlenker, 1980; Tedeschi, 1981).

Each of these studies shows that people’s efforts to make impressions on others affect these phenomena, and, ultimately, that concerns self-presentation in private social life.

For example, research shows that people are more likely to be pro-socially helpful when their helpfulness is publicized and behave more prosocially when they desire to repair a damaged social image by being helpful (Leary, 2001).

In a similar vein, many instances of aggressive behavior can be explained as self-presentational efforts to show that someone is willing to hurt others in order to get their way.

This can go as far as gender roles, for which evidence shows that men and women behave differently due to the kind of impressions that are socially expected of men and women.

Baumeister, R. F. (1982). A self-presentational view of social phenomena. Psychological Bulletin, 91, 3-26.

Braginsky, B. M., Braginsky, D. D., & Ring, K. (1969). Methods of madness: The mental hospital as a last resort. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Buss, A. H., & Briggs, S. (1984). Drama and the self in social interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47, 1310-1324. Gergen, K. J. (1968). Personal consistency and the presentation of self. In C. Gordon & K. J. Gergen (Eds.), The self in social interaction (Vol. 1, pp. 299-308). New York: Wiley.

Gergen, K. J., & Taylor, M. G. (1969). Social expectancy and self-presentation in a status hierarchy. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 5, 79-92.

Goffman, E. (1959). The moral career of the mental patient. Psychiatry, 22(2), 123-142.

  • Goffman, E. (1963). Embarrassment and social organization.

Goffman, E. (1978). The presentation of self in everyday life (Vol. 21). London: Harmondsworth.

Goffman, E. (2002). The presentation of self in everyday life. 1959. Garden City, NY, 259.

Martey, R. M., & Consalvo, M. (2011). Performing the looking-glass self: Avatar appearance and group identity in Second Life. Popular Communication, 9 (3), 165-180.

Jones E E (1964) Ingratiation. Appleton-Century-Crofts, New York.

Jones, E. E., & Pittman, T. S. (1982). Toward a general theory of strategic self-presentation. Psychological perspectives on the self, 1(1), 231-262.

Leary M R (1995) Self-presentation: Impression Management and Interpersonal Behaior. Westview Press, Boulder, CO.

Leary, M. R.. Impression Management, Psychology of, in Smelser, N. J., & Baltes, P. B. (Eds.). (2001). International encyclopedia of the social & behavioral sciences (Vol. 11). Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Leary, M. R., & Kowalski, R. M. (1990). Impression management: A literature review and two-component model. Psychological bulletin, 107(1), 34.

Leary M R, Tchvidjian L R, Kraxberger B E 1994 Self-presentation may be hazardous to your health. Health Psychology 13: 461–70.

Ogilvie, D. M. (1987). The undesired self: A neglected variable in personality research. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 379-385.

  • Schlenker, B. R. (1980). Impression management (Vol. 222). Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Schlenker, B. R. (1985). Identity and self-identification. In B. R. Schlenker (Ed.), The self and social life (pp. 65-99). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Schlenker, B. R., & Leary, M. R. (1982). Social anxiety and self-presentation: A conceptualization model. Psychological bulletin, 92(3), 641.

Tedeschi, J. T, Smith, R. B., Ill, & Brown, R. C., Jr. (1974). A reinterpretation of research on aggression. Psychological Bulletin, 81, 540- 563.

Tseëlon, E. (1992). Is the presented self sincere? Goffman, impression management and the postmodern self. Theory, culture & society, 9(2), 115-128.

Tunnell, G. (1984). The discrepancy between private and public selves: Public self-consciousness and its correlates. Journal of Personality Assessment, 48, 549-555.

Further Information

  • Solomon, J. F., Solomon, A., Joseph, N. L., & Norton, S. D. (2013). Impression management, myth creation and fabrication in private social and environmental reporting: Insights from Erving Goffman. Accounting, organizations and society, 38(3), 195-213.
  • Gardner, W. L., & Martinko, M. J. (1988). Impression management in organizations. Journal of management, 14(2), 321-338.
  • Scheff, T. J. (2005). Looking‐Glass self: Goffman as symbolic interactionist. Symbolic interaction, 28(2), 147-166.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

IResearchNet

Self-Presentation

Self-presentation definition.

Self-presentation refers to how people attempt to present themselves to control or shape how others (called the audience) view them. It involves expressing oneself and behaving in ways that create a desired impression. Self-presentation is part of a broader set of behaviors called impression management. Impression management refers to the controlled presentation of information about all sorts of things, including information about other people or events. Self-presentation refers specifically to information about the self.

Self-Presentation History and Modern Usage

Early work on impression management focused on its manipulative, inauthentic uses that might typify a used car salesperson who lies to sell a car, or someone at a job interview who embellishes accomplishments to get a job. However, researchers now think of self-presentation more broadly as a pervasive aspect of life. Although some aspects of self-presentation are deliberate and effortful (and at times deceitful), other aspects are automatic and done with little or no conscious thought. For example, a woman may interact with many people during the day and may make different impressions on each person. When she starts her day at her apartment, she chats with her roommates and cleans up after breakfast, thereby presenting the image of being a good friend and responsible roommate. During classes, she responds to her professor’s questions and carefully takes notes, presenting the image of being a good student. Later that day, she calls her parents and tells them about her classes and other activities (although likely leaving out information about some activities), presenting the image of being a loving and responsible daughter. That night, she might go to a party or dancing with friends, presenting the image of being fun and easygoing. Although some aspects of these self-presentations may be deliberate and conscious, other aspects are not. For example, chatting with her roommates and cleaning up after breakfast may be habitual behaviors that are done with little conscious thought. Likewise, she may automatically hold the door open for an acquaintance or buy a cup of coffee for a friend. These behaviors, although perhaps not done consciously or with self-presentation in mind, nevertheless convey an image of the self to others.

Academic Writing, Editing, Proofreading, And Problem Solving Services

Get 10% off with 24start discount code.

Self-Presentation

Although people have the ability to present images that are false, self-presentations are often genuine; they reflect an attempt by the person to have others perceive him or her accurately, or at least consistent with how the person perceives himself or herself. Self-presentations can vary as a function of the audience; people present different aspects of themselves to different audiences or under different conditions. A man likely presents different aspects of himself to his close friends than he does to his elderly grandmother, and a woman may present a different image to her spouse than she does to her employer. This is not to say that these different images are false. Rather, they represent different aspects of the self. The self is much like a gem with multiple facets. The gem likely appears differently depending on the angle at which it is viewed. However, the various appearances are all genuine. Even if people present a self-image that they know to be false, they may begin to internalize the self-image and thereby eventually come to believe the self-pres

entation. For example, a man may initially present an image of being a good student without believing it to be genuine, but after attending all his classes for several weeks, visiting the professor during office hours, and asking questions during class, he may come to see himself as truly being a good student. This internalization process is most likely to occur when people make a public commitment to the self-image, when the behavior is at least somewhat consistent with their self-image, and when they receive positive feedback or other rewards for presenting the self-image.

Self-presentation is often directed to external audiences such as friends, lovers, employers, teachers, children, and even strangers. Self-presentation is more likely to be conscious when the presenter depends on the audience for some reward, expects to interact with the audience in the future, wants something from the audience, or values the audience’s approval. Yet self-presentation extends beyond audiences that are physically present to imagined audiences, and these imagined audiences can have distinct effects on behavior. A young man at a party might suddenly think about his parents and change his behavior from rambunctious to reserved. People sometimes even make self-presentations only for themselves. For instance, people want to claim certain identities, such as being fun, intelligent, kind, moral, and they may behave in line with these identities even in private.

Self-Presentation Goals

Self-presentation is inherently goal-directed; people present certain images because they benefit from the images in some way. The most obvious benefits are interpersonal, arising from getting others to do what one wants. A job candidate may convey an image of being hardworking and dependable to get a job; a salesperson may convey an image of being trustworthy and honest to achieve a sale. People may also benefit from their self-presentations by gaining respect, power, liking, or other desirable social rewards. Finally, people make certain impressions on others to maintain a sense of who they are, or their self-concept. For example, a man who wants to think of himself as a voracious reader might join a book club or volunteer at a library, or a woman who wishes to perceive herself as generous may contribute lavishly to a charitable cause. Even when there are few or no obvious benefits of a particular self-presentation, people may simply present an image that is consistent with the way they like to think about themselves, or at least the way they are accustomed to thinking about themselves.

Much of self-presentation is directed toward achieving one of two desirable images. First, people want to appear likeable. People like others who are attractive, interesting, and fun to be with. Thus, a sizable proportion of self-presentation revolves around developing, maintaining, and enhancing appearance and conveying and emphasizing characteristics that others desire, admire, and enjoy. Second, people want to appear competent. People like others who are skilled and able, and thus another sizable proportion of self-presentation revolves around conveying an image of competence. Yet, self-presentation is not so much about presenting desirable images as it is about presenting desired images, and some desired images are not necessarily desirable. For example, schoolyard bullies may present an image of being dangerous or intimidating to gain or maintain power over others. Some people present themselves as weak or infirmed (or exaggerate their weaknesses) to gain help from others. For instance, a member of a group project may display incompetence in the hope that other members will do more of the work, or a child may exaggerate illness to avoid going to school.

Self-Presentation Avenues

People self-present in a variety of ways. Perhaps most obviously, people self-present in what they say. These verbalizations can be direct claims of a particular image, such as when a person claims to be altruistic. They also can be indirect, such as when a person discloses personal behaviors or standards (e.g., “I volunteer at a hospital”). Other verbal presentations emerge when people express attitudes or beliefs. Divulging that one enjoys backpacking through Europe conveys the image that one is a world-traveler. Second, people self-present nonverbally in their physical appearance, body language, and other behavior. Smiling, eye contact, and nods of agreement can convey a wealth of information. Third, people self-present through the props they surround themselves with and through their associations. Driving an expensive car or flying first class conveys an image of having wealth, whereas an array of diplomas and certificates on one’s office walls conveys an image of education and expertise. Likewise, people judge others based on their associations. For example, being in the company of politicians or movie stars conveys an image of importance, and not surprisingly, many people display photographs of themselves with famous people. In a similar vein, high school students concerned with their status are often careful about which classmates they are seen and not seen with publicly. Being seen by others in the company of someone from a member of a disreputable group can raise questions about one’s own social standing.

Self-Presentation Pitfalls

Self-presentation is most successful when the image presented is consistent with what the audience thinks or knows to be true. The more the image presented differs from the image believed or anticipated by the audience, the less willing the audience will be to accept the image. For example, the lower a student’s grade is on the first exam, the more difficulty he or she will have in convincing a professor that he or she will earn an A on the next exam. Self-presentations are constrained by audience knowledge. The more the audience knows about a person, the less freedom the person has in claiming a particular identity. An audience that knows very little about a person will be more accepting of whatever identity the person conveys, whereas an audience that knows a great deal about a person will be less accepting.

People engaging in self-presentation sometimes encounter difficulties that undermine their ability to convey a desired image. First, people occasionally encounter the multiple audience problem, in which they must simultaneously present two conflicting images. For example, a student while walking with friends who know only her rebellious, impetuous side may run into her professor who knows only her serious, conscientious side. The student faces the dilemma of conveying the conflicting images of rebellious friend and serious student. When both audiences are present, the student must try to behave in a way that is consistent with how her friends view her, but also in a way that is consistent with how her professor views her. Second, people occasionally encounter challenges to their self-presentations. The audience may not believe the image the person presents. Challenges are most likely to arise when people are managing impressions through self-descriptions and the self-descriptions are inconsistent with other evidence. For example, a man who claims to be good driver faces a self-presentational dilemma if he is ticketed or gets in an automobile accident. Third, self-presentations can fail when people lack the cognitive resources to present effectively because, for example, they are tired, anxious, or distracted. For instance, a woman may yawn uncontrollably or reflexively check her watch while talking to a boring classmate, unintentionally conveying an image of disinterest.

Some of the most important images for people to convey are also the hardest. As noted earlier, among the most important images people want to communicate are likeability and competence. Perhaps because these images are so important and are often rewarded, audiences may be skeptical of accepting direct claims of likeability and competence from presenters, thinking that the person is seeking personal gain. Thus, people must resort to indirect routes to create these images, and the indirect routes can be misinterpreted. For example, the student who sits in the front row of the class and asks a lot of questions may be trying to project an image of being a competent student but may be perceived negatively as a teacher’s pet by fellow students.

Finally, there is a dark side to self-presentation. In some instances, the priority people place on their appearances or images can threaten their health. People who excessively tan are putting a higher priority on their appearance (e.g., being tan) than on their health (e.g., taking precautions to avoid skin cancer). Similarly, although condoms help protect against sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy, self-presentational concerns may dissuade partners or potential partners from discussing, carrying, or using condoms. Women may fear that carrying condoms makes them seem promiscuous or easy, whereas men may fear that carrying condoms makes them seem presumptuous, as if they are expecting to have sex. Self-presentational concerns may also influence interactions with health care providers and may lead people to delay or avoid embarrassing medical tests and procedures or treatments for conditions that are embarrassing. For example, people may be reluctant to seek tests or treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, loss of bladder control, mental disorders, mental decline, or other conditions associated with weakness or incompetence. Finally, concerns with social acceptance may prompt young people to engage in risky behaviors such as excessive alcohol consumption, sexual promiscuity, or juvenile delinquency.

References:

  • Jones, E. E., Pittman, T. S. (1982). Toward a general theory of strategic self-presentation. In J. Suls (Ed.), Psychological perspectives on the self (Vol. 1, pp. 231-260). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Leary, M. R. (1996). Self-presentation: Impression management and interpersonal behavior. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
  • Leary, M. R., Tchividjian, L. R., & Kraxberger, B. E. (1994). Self-presentation can be hazardous to your health: Impression management and health risk. Health Psychology, 13, 461-470.
  • Schlenker, B. R. (1980). Impression management: The self-concept, social identity, and interpersonal relations. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Phil Reed D.Phil.

  • Personality

Self-Presentation in the Digital World

Do traditional personality theories predict digital behaviour.

Posted August 31, 2021 | Reviewed by Chloe Williams

  • What Is Personality?
  • Find a therapist near me
  • Personality theories can help explain real-world differences in self-presentation behaviours but they may not apply to online behaviours.
  • In the real world, women have higher levels of behavioural inhibition tendencies than men and are more likely to avoid displeasing others.
  • Based on this assumption, one would expect women to present themselves less on social media, but women tend to use social media more than men.

Digital technology allows people to construct and vary their self-identity more easily than they can in the real world. This novel digital- personality construction may, or may not, be helpful to that person in the long run, but it is certainly more possible than it is in the real world. Yet how this relates to "personality," as described by traditional personality theories, is not really known. Who will tend to manipulate their personality online, and would traditional personality theories predict these effects? A look at what we do know about gender differences in the real and digital worlds suggests that many aspects of digital behaviour may not conform to the expectations of personality theories developed for the real world.

Half a century ago, Goffman suggested that individuals establish social identities by employing self-presentation tactics and impression management . Self-presentational tactics are techniques for constructing or manipulating others’ impressions of the individual and ultimately help to develop that person’s identity in the eyes of the world. The ways other people react are altered by choosing how to present oneself – that is, self-presentation strategies are used for impression management . Others then uphold, shape, or alter that self-image , depending on how they react to the tactics employed. This implies that self-presentation is a form of social communication, by which people establish, maintain, and alter their social identity.

These self-presentational strategies can be " assertive " or "defensive." 1 Assertive strategies are associated with active control of the person’s self-image; and defensive strategies are associated with protecting a desired identity that is under threat. In the real world, the use of self-presentational tactics has been widely studied and has been found to relate to many behaviours and personalities 2 . Yet, despite the enormous amounts of time spent on social media , the types of self-presentational tactics employed on these platforms have not received a huge amount of study. In fact, social media appears to provide an ideal opportunity for the use of self-presentational tactics, especially assertive strategies aimed at creating an identity in the eyes of others.

Seeking to Experience Different Types of Reward

Social media allows individuals to present themselves in ways that are entirely reliant on their own behaviours – and not on factors largely beyond their ability to instantly control, such as their appearance, gender, etc. That is, the impression that the viewer of the social media post receives is dependent, almost entirely, on how or what another person posts 3,4 . Thus, the digital medium does not present the difficulties for individuals who wish to divorce the newly-presented self from the established self. New personalities or "images" may be difficult to establish in real-world interactions, as others may have known the person beforehand, and their established patterns of interaction. Alternatively, others may not let people get away with "out of character" behaviours, or they may react to their stereotype of the person in front of them, not to their actual behaviours. All of which makes real-life identity construction harder.

Engaging in such impression management may stem from motivations to experience different types of reward 5 . In terms of one personality theory, individuals displaying behavioural approach tendencies (the Behavioural Activation System; BAS) and behavioural inhibition tendencies (the Behavioural Inhibition System; BIS) will differ in terms of self-presentation behaviours. Those with strong BAS seek opportunities to receive or experience reward (approach motivation ); whereas, those with strong BIS attempt to avoid punishment (avoidance motivation). People who need to receive a lot of external praise may actively seek out social interactions and develop a lot of social goals in their lives. Those who are more concerned about not incurring other people’s displeasure may seek to defend against this possibility and tend to withdraw from people. Although this is a well-established view of personality in the real world, it has not received strong attention in terms of digital behaviours.

Real-World Personality Theories May Not Apply Online

One test bed for the application of this theory in the digital domain is predicted gender differences in social media behaviour in relation to self-presentation. Both self-presentation 1 , and BAS and BIS 6 , have been noted to show gender differences. In the real world, women have shown higher levels of BIS than men (at least, to this point in time), although levels of BAS are less clearly differentiated between genders. This view would suggest that, in order to avoid disapproval, women will present themselves less often on social media; and, where they do have a presence, adopt defensive self-presentational strategies.

The first of these hypotheses is demonstrably false – where there are any differences in usage (and there are not that many), women tend to use social media more often than men. What we don’t really know, with any certainty, is how women use social media for self-presentation, and whether this differs from men’s usage. In contrast to the BAS/BIS view of personality, developed for the real world, several studies have suggested that selfie posting can be an assertive, or even aggressive, behaviour for females – used in forming a new personality 3 . In contrast, sometimes selfie posting by males is related to less aggressive, and more defensive, aspects of personality 7 . It may be that women take the opportunity to present very different images of themselves online from their real-world personalities. All of this suggests that theories developed for personality in the real world may not apply online – certainly not in terms of putative gender-related behaviours.

We know that social media allows a new personality to be presented easily, which is not usually seen in real-world interactions, and it may be that real-world gender differences are not repeated in digital contexts. Alternatively, it may suggest that these personality theories are now simply hopelessly anachronistic – based on assumptions that no longer apply. If that were the case, it would certainly rule out any suggestion that such personalities are genetically determined – as we know that structure hasn’t changed dramatically in the last 20 years.

1. Lee, S.J., Quigley, B.M., Nesler, M.S., Corbett, A.B., & Tedeschi, J.T. (1999). Development of a self-presentation tactics scale. Personality and Individual Differences, 26(4), 701-722.

2. Laghi, F., Pallini, S., & Baiocco, R. (2015). Autopresentazione efficace, tattiche difensive e assertive e caratteristiche di personalità in Adolescenza. Rassegna di Psicologia, 32(3), 65-82.

3. Chua, T.H.H., & Chang, L. (2016). Follow me and like my beautiful selfies: Singapore teenage girls’ engagement in self-presentation and peer comparison on social media. Computers in Human Behavior, 55, 190-197.

4. Fox, J., & Rooney, M.C. (2015). The Dark Triad and trait self-objectification as predictors of men’s use and self-presentation behaviors on social networking sites. Personality and Individual Differences, 76, 161-165.

5. Hermann, A.D., Teutemacher, A.M., & Lehtman, M.J. (2015). Revisiting the unmitigated approach model of narcissism: Replication and extension. Journal of Research in Personality, 55, 41-45.

6. Carver, C.S., & White, T.L. (1994). Behavioral inhibition, behavioral activation, and affective responses to impending reward and punishment: the BIS/BAS scales. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67(2), 319.

7. Sorokowski, P., Sorokowska, A., Frackowiak, T., Karwowski, M., Rusicka, I., & Oleszkiewicz, A. (2016). Sex differences in online selfie posting behaviors predict histrionic personality scores among men but not women. Computers in Human Behavior, 59, 368-373.

Phil Reed D.Phil.

Phil Reed, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at Swansea University.

  • Find a Therapist
  • Find a Treatment Center
  • Find a Psychiatrist
  • Find a Support Group
  • Find Teletherapy
  • United States
  • Brooklyn, NY
  • Chicago, IL
  • Houston, TX
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • New York, NY
  • Portland, OR
  • San Diego, CA
  • San Francisco, CA
  • Seattle, WA
  • Washington, DC
  • Asperger's
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Chronic Pain
  • Eating Disorders
  • Passive Aggression
  • Goal Setting
  • Positive Psychology
  • Stopping Smoking
  • Low Sexual Desire
  • Relationships
  • Child Development
  • Therapy Center NEW
  • Diagnosis Dictionary
  • Types of Therapy

January 2024 magazine cover

Overcome burnout, your burdens, and that endless to-do list.

  • Coronavirus Disease 2019
  • Affective Forecasting
  • Neuroscience

Logo for M Libraries Publishing

Want to create or adapt books like this? Learn more about how Pressbooks supports open publishing practices.

2.3 Perceiving and Presenting Self

Learning objectives.

  • 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

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.

2.3.0N

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.

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.

Self-Esteem

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.

2.3.1N

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.

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.

Figure 2.2 Relationship between Self-Efficacy, Self-Esteem, and Self-Concept

2.3.2

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.

2.3.3N

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.

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.

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.

2.3.4N

Some experts have warned that overpraising children can lead to distorted self-concepts.

Rain0975 – participation award – CC BY-ND 2.0.

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.

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.

2.3.5N

Biracial individuals may have challenges with self-perception as they try to integrate both racial identities into their self-concept.

Javcon117* – End of Summer Innocence – CC BY-SA 2.0.

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.

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.

“Getting Critical”

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?

Self-Presentation

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.

2.3.6N

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.

Steve Petrucelli – Interview Time! – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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?

Key Takeaways

  • 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.

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.

Communication in the Real World Copyright © 2016 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

Book cover

Theories of Group Behavior pp 71–87 Cite as

Self-Presentation Theory: Self-Construction and Audience Pleasing

  • Roy F. Baumeister &
  • Debra G. Hutton  

2255 Accesses

55 Citations

59 Altmetric

Part of the Springer Series in Social Psychology book series (SSSOC)

Self-presentation is behavior that attempts to convey some information about oneself or some image of oneself to other people. It denotes a class of motivations in human behavior. These motivations are in part stable dispositions of individuals but they depend on situational factors to elicit them. Specifically, self-presentational motivations are activated by the evaluative presence of other people and by others’ (even potential) knowledge of one’s behavior.

  • Antisocial Behavior
  • Individual Therapy
  • Cognitive Dissonance
  • Impression Management
  • Experimental Social Psychology

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution .

Buying options

  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Compact, lightweight edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Unable to display preview.  Download preview PDF.

Adler, A (1921). The neurotic constitution: Outlines of a comparative individualistic psychology and psychotherapy . New York: Moffat Yard.

Google Scholar  

Aries, P. (1981). The hour of our death . New York: Knopf.

Baumeister, R. F. (1982a). A self-presentational view of social phenomena. Psychological Bulletin, 91 , 3–26.

Article   Google Scholar  

Baumeister, R. F. (1982b). Self-esteem, self-presentation, and future interaction: A dilemma of reputation. Journal of Personality, 50 , 29–45.

Baumeister, R. F. (1984). Choking under pressure: Self-consciousness and paradoxical effects of incentives on skillful performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46 , 610–620.

Article   PubMed   Google Scholar  

Baumeister, R. F. (1985). The championship choke. Psychology Today, 19 (4:April), 48–52.

Baumeister, R. F. (1986). Identity . New York: Oxford University Press.

Baumeister, R F, Hamilton, J. C., & Tice, D. M. (1985). Public versus private expectancy of success: Confidence booster or performance pressure? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48 , 1447–1457.

Baumeister, R. F., & Jones, E. E. (1978). When self-presentation is constrained by the target’s prior knowledge: Consistency and compensation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36 , 608–618.

Baumeister, R. F., & Steinhilber, A (1984). Paradoxical effects of supportive audiences on performance under pressure: The home field disadvantage in sports championships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47 , 85–93.

Baumeister, R. F., & Tice, D. M. (1984). Role of self-presentation and choice in cognitive dissonance under forced compliance: Necessary or sufficient causes? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46 , 5–13.

Baumeister, R. F., & Tice, D. M. (1985). Self-esteem and responses to success and failure: Subsequent performance and intrinsic motivation. Journal of Personality, 53 , 450–467.

Bond, C. F. (1982). Social facilitation: A self-presentational view. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 42 , 1042–1050.

Bond, C. F., & Titus, L. J. (1983). Social facilitation: A meta-analysis of 241 studies. Psychological Bulletin, 94 , 265–292.

Braginsky, B. M., Braginsky, D. D., & Ring, K. (1969). Methods of madness: The mental hospital as a last resort . New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Castaneda, C. (1972). Journey to Ixtlan: The lessons of Don Juan . New York: Simon & Schuster.

Deaux, K, & Major, B. (1977). Sex-related patterns in the unit of perception. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 3 , 297–300.

Emmler, N. (1984). Differential involvement in delinquency: Toward an interpretation in terms of reputation management. Progress in Experimental Personality Research, 13 , 174–239.

Festinger, L., & Carlsmith, J. M. (1959). Cognitive consequences of forced compliance. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 58 , 203–210.

Felson, R (1978). Aggression as impression management. Social Psychology Quarterly, 41 , 205–213.

Gollwitzer, P. M. (1986). Striving for specific identities: The social reality of self-symbolizing. In R. Baumeister (Ed.), Public self and private self . New York: Springer-Verlag.

Greenberg, J. (1983). Self-image versus impression management in adherence to distributive justice standards: The influence of self-awareness and self-consciousness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44 , 5–19.

Hinkle, L. (1957). [Untitled.] In Methods of forceful indoctrination: Observations and interviews . New York.

Hogan, R (1982). A socioanalytic theory of personality. In M. Page (Ed.), Nebraska symposium on motivation (pp. 55–89). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Hogan, R, Mankin, D., Conway, J., & Fox, S. (1970). Personality correlates of undergraduate marijuana use. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 35 , 58–63.

Houghton, W. E. (1957). The Victorian frame of mind: 1830–1870 . New Haven: Yale University Press.

Jones, E. E., & Berglas, S. C. (1978). Control of attributions about the self through self-handicapping strategies: The appeal of alcohol and the role of underachievement. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 4 , 200–206.

Jones, E. E., & Pittman, T. S. (1982). Toward a general theory of strategic self-presentation. In J. Suls (Ed.), Psychological perspectives on the self (Vol. 1, pp. 231–262). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Kassin, S. M. (1984) T. V. Cameras, public self-consciousness and mock juror performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 20 , 336–349.

Kett, J. F. (1977). Rites of passage: Adolescence in America 1790 to the present . New York: Basic.

Kidder, L. H., Bellettirie, G., & Cohn, E. S. (1977). Secret ambitions and public performances: The effects of anonymity on reward allocations made by men and women. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 13 , 70–80.

Kolditz, T. A, & Arkin, R. M. (1982). An impression management interpretation of the self-handicapping strategy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43 , 492–502.

Latané, B., Williams, K, & Harkins, S. (1979). Many hands make light the work: The causes and consequences of social loafing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37 , 822–832.

Lifton, R. J. (1957). [Untitled.] In Methods of forceful indoctrination: Observations and interviews . New York.

Major, B., & Adams, J. B. (1983). Role of gender, interpersonal orientation, and self-presentation in distributive-justice behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45 , 598–608.

Major, B., McFarlin, D. B., & Gagnon, D. (1984). Overworked and underpaid: On the nature of gender differences in personal entitlement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47 , 1399–1412.

McFarlin, D. B., Baumeister, R. F., & Blascovich, J. (1984). On knowing when to quit: Task failure, self-esteem, advice, and nonproductive persistence. Journal of Personality, 52 , 138–155.

Morris, C. (1972). The discovery of the individual: 1050–1200 . New York: Harper & Row.

Paulhus, D. (1982). Individual differences, self-presentation, and cognitive dissonance: Their concurrent operation in forced compliance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43 , 838–852.

Pennebaker, J. W. (1984). Confiding, ruminating, and psychosomatic disease. In J. W. Pennebaker (Chair), New paradigms in psychology . Symposium conducted at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association, Toronto, Canada, August 1984.

Pennebaker, J. W. (in press). Traumatic experience and psychosomatic disease: Exploring the roles of behavioral inhibition, obsession, and confiding. Canadian Psychology .

Sacco, W. P., & Hokanson, J. E. (1982). Depression and self-reinforcement in a public and private setting. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 42 , 377–385.

Schlenker, B. R. (1980). Impression management: The self-concept, social identity, and interpersonal relations . Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Schlenker, B. R. (1982). Translating actions into attitudes: An identity-analytic approach to the explanation of social conduct. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 15 pp. 194–247). New York: Academic Press.

Scott, M. B., & Lyman, S. M. (1968). Accounts. American Sociological Review, 33 , 46–62.

Silverman, I. (1964). Self-esteem and differential responsiveness to success and failure. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 69 , 115–119.

Smith, T. W, Snyder, C. R, & Perkins, S. C. (1983). The self-serving function of hypochondriacal complaints: Physical symptoms as self-handicapping strategies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44 , 787–797.

Sweeney, J. (1973). An experimental investigation of the free rider problem. Social Science Research, 2 , 277–292.

Tang, T. L. P., & Baumeister, R. F. (1984). Effects of personal values, perceived surveillance, and task labels on task preference: The ideology of turning play into work. Journal of Applied Psychology, 69 , 99–105.

Tedeschi, J. T., Schlenker, B. R, & Bonoma, T. V. (1971). Cognitive dissonance: Private ratiocination or public spectacle? American Psychologist, 26 , 685–695.

Tice, D. M., & Baumeister, R F. (1985). Self-esteem, self-handicapping, and self-presentation: The benefits of not practicing. Unpublished manuscript, Case Western Reserve University.

Toch, H. (1969). Violent men . Chicago: Aldine.

Wicklund, R. A, & Gollwitzer, P. M. (1982). Symbolic self-completion . Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Zajonc, R (1965). Social facilitation. Science, 149 , 269–274.

Download references

You can also search for this author in PubMed   Google Scholar

Editor information

Editors and affiliations.

Department of Psychology, Syracuse University, 13210, Syracuse, New York, USA

Brian Mullen

Department of Psychology, Williams College, 01267, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA

George R. Goethals

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 1987 Springer-Verlag New York Inc.

About this chapter

Cite this chapter.

Baumeister, R.F., Hutton, D.G. (1987). Self-Presentation Theory: Self-Construction and Audience Pleasing. In: Mullen, B., Goethals, G.R. (eds) Theories of Group Behavior. Springer Series in Social Psychology. Springer, New York, NY. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4612-4634-3_4

Download citation

DOI : https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4612-4634-3_4

Publisher Name : Springer, New York, NY

Print ISBN : 978-1-4612-9092-6

Online ISBN : 978-1-4612-4634-3

eBook Packages : Springer Book Archive

Share this chapter

Anyone you share the following link with will be able to read this content:

Sorry, a shareable link is not currently available for this article.

Provided by the Springer Nature SharedIt content-sharing initiative

  • Publish with us

Policies and ethics

  • Find a journal
  • Track your research
  • 12.2 Self-presentation
  • Introduction
  • 1.1 What Is Psychology?
  • 1.2 History of Psychology
  • 1.3 Contemporary Psychology
  • 1.4 Careers in Psychology
  • Review Questions
  • Critical Thinking Questions
  • Personal Application Questions
  • 2.1 Why Is Research Important?
  • 2.2 Approaches to Research
  • 2.3 Analyzing Findings
  • 3.1 Human Genetics
  • 3.2 Cells of the Nervous System
  • 3.3 Parts of the Nervous System
  • 3.4 The Brain and Spinal Cord
  • 3.5 The Endocrine System
  • 4.1 What Is Consciousness?
  • 4.2 Sleep and Why We Sleep
  • 4.3 Stages of Sleep
  • 4.4 Sleep Problems and Disorders
  • 4.5 Substance Use and Abuse
  • 4.6 Other States of Consciousness
  • 5.1 Sensation versus Perception
  • 5.2 Waves and Wavelengths
  • 5.4 Hearing
  • 5.5 The Other Senses
  • 5.6 Gestalt Principles of Perception
  • 6.1 What Is Learning?
  • 6.2 Classical Conditioning
  • 6.3 Operant Conditioning
  • 6.4 Observational Learning (Modeling)
  • 7.1 What Is Cognition?
  • 7.2 Language
  • 7.3 Problem Solving
  • 7.4 What Are Intelligence and Creativity?
  • 7.5 Measures of Intelligence
  • 7.6 The Source of Intelligence
  • 8.1 How Memory Functions
  • 8.2 Parts of the Brain Involved with Memory
  • 8.3 Problems with Memory
  • 8.4 Ways to Enhance Memory
  • 9.1 What Is Lifespan Development?
  • 9.2 Lifespan Theories
  • 9.3 Stages of Development
  • 9.4 Death and Dying
  • 10.1 Motivation
  • 10.2 Hunger and Eating
  • 10.3 Sexual Behavior, Sexuality, and Gender Identity
  • 10.4 Emotion
  • 11.1 What Is Personality?
  • 11.2 Freud and the Psychodynamic Perspective
  • 11.3 Neo-Freudians: Adler, Erikson, Jung, and Horney
  • 11.4 Learning Approaches
  • 11.5 Humanistic Approaches
  • 11.6 Biological Approaches
  • 11.7 Trait Theorists
  • 11.8 Cultural Understandings of Personality
  • 11.9 Personality Assessment
  • 12.1 What Is Social Psychology?
  • 12.3 Attitudes and Persuasion
  • 12.4 Conformity, Compliance, and Obedience
  • 12.5 Prejudice and Discrimination
  • 12.6 Aggression
  • 12.7 Prosocial Behavior
  • 13.1 What Is Industrial and Organizational Psychology?
  • 13.2 Industrial Psychology: Selecting and Evaluating Employees
  • 13.3 Organizational Psychology: The Social Dimension of Work
  • 13.4 Human Factors Psychology and Workplace Design
  • 14.1 What Is Stress?
  • 14.2 Stressors
  • 14.3 Stress and Illness
  • 14.4 Regulation of Stress
  • 14.5 The Pursuit of Happiness
  • 15.1 What Are Psychological Disorders?
  • 15.2 Diagnosing and Classifying Psychological Disorders
  • 15.3 Perspectives on Psychological Disorders
  • 15.4 Anxiety Disorders
  • 15.5 Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders
  • 15.6 Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
  • 15.7 Mood and Related Disorders
  • 15.8 Schizophrenia
  • 15.9 Dissociative Disorders
  • 15.10 Disorders in Childhood
  • 15.11 Personality Disorders
  • 16.1 Mental Health Treatment: Past and Present
  • 16.2 Types of Treatment
  • 16.3 Treatment Modalities
  • 16.4 Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders: A Special Case
  • 16.5 The Sociocultural Model and Therapy Utilization

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe social roles and how they influence behavior
  • Explain what social norms are and how they influence behavior
  • Define script
  • Describe the findings and criticisms of Zimbardo’s Stanford prison experiment

As you’ve learned, social psychology is the study of how people affect one another’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We have discussed situational perspectives and social psychology’s emphasis on the ways in which a person’s environment, including culture and other social influences, affect behavior. In this section, we examine situational forces that have a strong influence on human behavior including social roles, social norms, and scripts. We discuss how humans use the social environment as a source of information, or cues, on how to behave. Situational influences on our behavior have important consequences, such as whether we will help a stranger in an emergency or how we would behave in an unfamiliar environment.

Social Roles

One major social determinant of human behavior is our social roles. A social role is a pattern of behavior that is expected of a person in a given setting or group (Hare, 2003). Each one of us has several social roles. You may be, at the same time, a student, a parent, an aspiring teacher, a son or daughter, a spouse, and a lifeguard. How do these social roles influence your behavior? Social roles are defined by culturally shared knowledge. That is, nearly everyone in a given culture knows what behavior is expected of a person in a given role. For example, what is the social role for a student? If you look around a college classroom you will likely see students engaging in studious behavior, taking notes, listening to the professor, reading the textbook, and sitting quietly at their desks ( Figure 12.8 ). Of course you may see students deviating from the expected studious behavior such as texting on their phones or using Facebook on their laptops, but in all cases, the students that you observe are attending class—a part of the social role of students.

Social roles, and our related behavior, can vary across different settings. How do you behave when you are engaging in the role of a child attending a family function? Now imagine how you behave when you are engaged in the role of employee at your workplace. It is very likely that your behavior will be different. Perhaps you are more relaxed and outgoing with your family, making jokes and doing silly things. But at your workplace you might speak more professionally, and although you may be friendly, you are also serious and focused on getting the work completed. These are examples of how our social roles influence and often dictate our behavior to the extent that identity and personality can vary with context (that is, in different social groups) (Malloy, Albright, Kenny, Agatstein & Winquist, 1997).

Social Norms

As discussed previously, social roles are defined by a culture’s shared knowledge of what is expected behavior of an individual in a specific role. This shared knowledge comes from social norms. A social norm is a group’s expectation of what is appropriate and acceptable behavior for its members—how they are supposed to behave and think (Deutsch & Gerard, 1955; Berkowitz, 2004). How are we expected to act? What are we expected to talk about? What are we expected to wear? In our discussion of social roles we noted that colleges have social norms for students’ behavior in the role of student and workplaces have social norms for employees’ behaviors in the role of employee. Social norms are everywhere including in families, gangs, and on social media outlets. What are some social norms on Instagram?

Connect the Concepts

Tweens, teens, and social norms.

My 11-year-old daughter, Janelle, recently told me she needed shorts and shirts for the summer, and that she wanted me to take her to a store at the mall that is popular with preteens and teens to buy them. I have noticed that many girls have clothes from that store, so I tried teasing her. I said, “All the shirts say ‘Aero’ on the front. If you are wearing a shirt like that and you have a substitute teacher, and the other girls are all wearing that type of shirt, won’t the substitute teacher think you are all named ‘Aero’?”

My daughter replied, in typical 11-year-old fashion, “Mom, you are not funny. Can we please go shopping?”

I tried a different tactic. I asked Janelle if having clothing from that particular store will make her popular. She replied, “No, it will not make me popular. It is what the popular kids wear. It will make me feel happier.” How can a label or name brand make someone feel happier? Think back to what you’ve learned about lifespan development . What is it about pre-teens and young teens that make them want to fit in ( Figure 12.9 )? Does this change over time? Think back to your high school experience, or look around your college campus. What is the main name brand clothing you see? What messages do we get from the media about how to fit in?

Because of social roles, people tend to know what behavior is expected of them in specific, familiar settings. A script is a person’s knowledge about the sequence of events expected in a specific setting (Schank & Abelson, 1977). How do you act on the first day of school, when you walk into an elevator, or are at a restaurant? For example, at a restaurant in the United States, if we want the server’s attention, we try to make eye contact. In Brazil, you would make the sound “psst” to get the server’s attention. You can see the cultural differences in scripts. To an American, saying “psst” to a server might seem rude, yet to a Brazilian, trying to make eye contact might not seem an effective strategy. Scripts are important sources of information to guide behavior in given situations. Can you imagine being in an unfamiliar situation and not having a script for how to behave? This could be uncomfortable and confusing. How could you find out about social norms in an unfamiliar culture?

Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment

The famous Stanford prison experiment , conducted by social psychologist Philip Zimbardo and his colleagues at Stanford University, demonstrated the power of social roles, social norms, and scripts. In the summer of 1971, an advertisement was placed in a California newspaper asking for male volunteers to participate in a study about the psychological effects of prison life. More than 70 men volunteered, and these volunteers then underwent psychological testing to eliminate candidates who had underlying psychiatric issues, medical issues, or a history of crime or drug abuse. The pool of volunteers was whittled down to 24 healthy male college students. Each student was paid $15 per day (equivalent to about $80 today) and was randomly assigned to play the role of either a prisoner or a guard in the study. Based on what you have learned about research methods, why is it important that participants were randomly assigned?

A mock prison was constructed in the basement of the psychology building at Stanford. Participants assigned to play the role of prisoners were “arrested” at their homes by Palo Alto police officers, booked at a police station, and subsequently taken to the mock prison. The experiment was scheduled to run for several weeks. To the surprise of the researchers, both the “prisoners” and “guards” assumed their roles with zeal. On the second day of the experiment, the guards forced the prisoners to strip, took their beds, and isolated the ringleaders using solitary confinement. In a relatively short time, the guards came to harass the prisoners in an increasingly sadistic manner, through a complete lack of privacy, lack of basic comforts such as mattresses to sleep on, and through degrading chores and late-night counts.

The prisoners, in turn, began to show signs of severe anxiety and hopelessness—they began tolerating the guards’ abuse. Even the Stanford professor who designed the study and was the head researcher, Philip Zimbardo, found himself acting as if the prison was real and his role, as prison supervisor, was real as well. After only six days, the experiment had to be ended due to the participants’ deteriorating behavior. Zimbardo explained,

At this point it became clear that we had to end the study. We had created an overwhelmingly powerful situation—a situation in which prisoners were withdrawing and behaving in pathological ways, and in which some of the guards were behaving sadistically. Even the “good” guards felt helpless to intervene, and none of the guards quit while the study was in progress. Indeed, it should be noted that no guard ever came late for his shift, called in sick, left early, or demanded extra pay for overtime work. (Zimbardo, 2013)

The Stanford Prison Experiment has been used as a memorable demonstration of the incredible power that social roles, norms, and scripts have in affecting human behavior. However, multiple aspects of the study have been subject to criticism since its inception. The nature of these criticisms range from ethical concerns to issues of generalizability (Bartels, Milovich, & Moussier, 2016; Griggs, 2014; Le Texier, 2019). One criticism is that the way students were recruited for the experiment may have impacted the outcome (Carnahan & McFarland, 2007). Another criticism questions the conclusions that can be drawn from the study. Zimbardo appears to have provided specific guidelines of the types of behaviors that were expected of the guards (Zimbardo, 2007). Subsequent research suggests that such guidelines likely created an expectation of the types of behavior that Zimbardo reported observing in the Stanford Prison Experiment (Bartels, 2019), and that given these expectations, the guards simply acted as they thought they were expected to act. It has also been problematic that attempts to replicate aspects of the study have not been successful. For example, when no guidelines were presented to the guards, researchers documented different outcomes than those observed by Zimbardo. (Reicher & Haslam, 2006).

The Stanford Prison Experiment has some parallels with the abuse of prisoners of war by U.S. Army troops and CIA personnel at the Abu Ghraib prison in 2003 and 2004 during the Iraq War. The offenses at Abu Ghraib were documented by photographs of the abuse, some taken by the abusers themselves ( Figure 12.10 ).

Link to Learning

Listen to this NPR interview with Philip Zimbardo where he discusses the parallels between the Stanford prison experiment and the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq to learn more.

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

This book may not be used in the training of large language models or otherwise be ingested into large language models or generative AI offerings without OpenStax's permission.

Want to cite, share, or modify this book? This book uses the Creative Commons Attribution License and you must attribute OpenStax.

Access for free at https://openstax.org/books/psychology-2e/pages/1-introduction
  • Authors: Rose M. Spielman, William J. Jenkins, Marilyn D. Lovett
  • Publisher/website: OpenStax
  • Book title: Psychology 2e
  • Publication date: Apr 22, 2020
  • Location: Houston, Texas
  • Book URL: https://openstax.org/books/psychology-2e/pages/1-introduction
  • Section URL: https://openstax.org/books/psychology-2e/pages/12-2-self-presentation

© Jan 6, 2024 OpenStax. Textbook content produced by OpenStax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License . The OpenStax name, OpenStax logo, OpenStax book covers, OpenStax CNX name, and OpenStax CNX logo are not subject to the Creative Commons license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice University.

71 Self-presentation

[latexpage]

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe social roles and how they influence behavior
  • Explain what social norms are and how they influence behavior
  • Define script
  • Describe the findings of Zimbardo’s Stanford prison experiment

As you’ve learned, social psychology is the study of how people affect one another’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We have discussed situational perspectives and social psychology’s emphasis on the ways in which a person’s environment, including culture and other social influences, affect behavior. In this section, we examine situational forces that have a strong influence on human behavior including social roles, social norms, and scripts. We discuss how humans use the social environment as a source of information, or cues, on how to behave. Situational influences on our behavior have important consequences, such as whether we will help a stranger in an emergency or how we would behave in an unfamiliar environment.

SOCIAL ROLES

One major social determinant of human behavior is our social roles. A social role is a pattern of behavior that is expected of a person in a given setting or group (Hare, 2003). Each one of us has several social roles. You may be, at the same time, a student, a parent, an aspiring teacher, a son or daughter, a spouse, and a lifeguard. How do these social roles influence your behavior? Social roles are defined by culturally shared knowledge. That is, nearly everyone in a given culture knows what behavior is expected of a person in a given role. For example, what is the social role for a student? If you look around a college classroom you will likely see students engaging in studious behavior, taking notes, listening to the professor, reading the textbook, and sitting quietly at their desks ( [link] ). Of course you may see students deviating from the expected studious behavior such as texting on their phones or using Facebook on their laptops, but in all cases, the students that you observe are attending class—a part of the social role of students.

A photograph shows students in a classroom.

Social roles, and our related behavior, can vary across different settings. How do you behave when you are engaging in the role of son or daughter and attending a family function? Now imagine how you behave when you are engaged in the role of employee at your workplace. It is very likely that your behavior will be different. Perhaps you are more relaxed and outgoing with your family, making jokes and doing silly things. But at your workplace you might speak more professionally, and although you may be friendly, you are also serious and focused on getting the work completed. These are examples of how our social roles influence and often dictate our behavior to the extent that identity and personality can vary with context (that is, in different social groups) (Malloy, Albright, Kenny, Agatstein & Winquist, 1997).

SOCIAL NORMS

As discussed previously, social roles are defined by a culture’s shared knowledge of what is expected behavior of an individual in a specific role. This shared knowledge comes from social norms. A social norm is a group’s expectation of what is appropriate and acceptable behavior for its members—how they are supposed to behave and think (Deutsch & Gerard, 1955; Berkowitz, 2004). How are we expected to act? What are we expected to talk about? What are we expected to wear? In our discussion of social roles we noted that colleges have social norms for students’ behavior in the role of student and workplaces have social norms for employees’ behaviors in the role of employee. Social norms are everywhere including in families, gangs, and on social media outlets. What are some social norms on Facebook?

My 11-year-old daughter, Jessica, recently told me she needed shorts and shirts for the summer, and that she wanted me to take her to a store at the mall that is popular with preteens and teens to buy them. I have noticed that many girls have clothes from that store, so I tried teasing her. I said, “All the shirts say ‘Aero’ on the front. If you are wearing a shirt like that and you have a substitute teacher, and the other girls are all wearing that type of shirt, won’t the substitute teacher think you are all named ‘Aero’?”

My daughter replied, in typical 11-year-old fashion, “Mom, you are not funny. Can we please go shopping?”

I tried a different tactic. I asked Jessica if having clothing from that particular store will make her popular. She replied, “No, it will not make me popular. It is what the popular kids wear. It will make me feel happier.” How can a label or name brand make someone feel happier? Think back to what you’ve learned about lifespan development . What is it about pre-teens and young teens that make them want to fit in ( [link] )? Does this change over time? Think back to your high school experience, or look around your college campus. What is the main name brand clothing you see? What messages do we get from the media about how to fit in?

A photograph shows a group of young people dressed similarly.

Because of social roles, people tend to know what behavior is expected of them in specific, familiar settings. A script is a person’s knowledge about the sequence of events expected in a specific setting (Schank & Abelson, 1977). How do you act on the first day of school, when you walk into an elevator, or are at a restaurant? For example, at a restaurant in the United States, if we want the server’s attention, we try to make eye contact. In Brazil, you would make the sound “psst” to get the server’s attention. You can see the cultural differences in scripts. To an American, saying “psst” to a server might seem rude, yet to a Brazilian, trying to make eye contact might not seem an effective strategy. Scripts are important sources of information to guide behavior in given situations. Can you imagine being in an unfamiliar situation and not having a script for how to behave? This could be uncomfortable and confusing. How could you find out about social norms in an unfamiliar culture?

ZIMBARDO’S STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT

The famous Stanford prison experiment , conducted by social psychologist Philip Zimbardo and his colleagues at Stanford University, demonstrated the power of social roles, social norms, and scripts. In the summer of 1971, an advertisement was placed in a California newspaper asking for male volunteers to participate in a study about the psychological effects of prison life. More than 70 men volunteered, and these volunteers then underwent psychological testing to eliminate candidates who had underlying psychiatric issues, medical issues, or a history of crime or drug abuse. The pool of volunteers was whittled down to 24 healthy male college students. Each student was paid $15 per day and was randomly assigned to play the role of either a prisoner or a guard in the study. Based on what you have learned about research methods, why is it important that participants were randomly assigned?

A mock prison was constructed in the basement of the psychology building at Stanford. Participants assigned to play the role of prisoners were “arrested” at their homes by Palo Alto police officers, booked at a police station, and subsequently taken to the mock prison. The experiment was scheduled to run for several weeks. To the surprise of the researchers, both the “prisoners” and “guards” assumed their roles with zeal. In fact, on day 2, some of the prisoners revolted, and the guards quelled the rebellion by threatening the prisoners with night sticks. In a relatively short time, the guards came to harass the prisoners in an increasingly sadistic manner, through a complete lack of privacy, lack of basic comforts such as mattresses to sleep on, and through degrading chores and late-night counts.

The prisoners, in turn, began to show signs of severe anxiety and hopelessness—they began tolerating the guards’ abuse. Even the Stanford professor who designed the study and was the head researcher, Philip Zimbardo, found himself acting as if the prison was real and his role, as prison supervisor, was real as well. After only six days, the experiment had to be ended due to the participants’ deteriorating behavior. Zimbardo explained,

At this point it became clear that we had to end the study. We had created an overwhelmingly powerful situation—a situation in which prisoners were withdrawing and behaving in pathological ways, and in which some of the guards were behaving sadistically. Even the “good” guards felt helpless to intervene, and none of the guards quit while the study was in progress. Indeed, it should be noted that no guard ever came late for his shift, called in sick, left early, or demanded extra pay for overtime work. (Zimbardo, 2013)

The Stanford prison experiment demonstrated the power of social roles, norms, and scripts in affecting human behavior. The guards and prisoners enacted their social roles by engaging in behaviors appropriate to the roles: The guards gave orders and the prisoners followed orders. Social norms require guards to be authoritarian and prisoners to be submissive. When prisoners rebelled, they violated these social norms, which led to upheaval. The specific acts engaged by the guards and the prisoners derived from scripts. For example, guards degraded the prisoners by forcing them do push-ups and by removing all privacy. Prisoners rebelled by throwing pillows and trashing their cells. Some prisoners became so immersed in their roles that they exhibited symptoms of mental breakdown; however, according to Zimbardo, none of the participants suffered long term harm (Alexander, 2001).

The Stanford Prison Experiment has some parallels with the abuse of prisoners of war by U.S. Army troops and CIA personnel at the Abu Ghraib prison in 2003 and 2004. The offenses at Abu Ghraib were documented by photographs of the abuse, some taken by the abusers themselves ( [link] ).

A photograph shows a person standing on a box with arms held out. The person is covered in shawl-like attire and a full hood that covers the face completely.

Visit this website to hear an NPR interview with Philip Zimbardo where he discusses the parallels between the Stanford prison experiment and the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Human behavior is largely influenced by our social roles, norms, and scripts. In order to know how to act in a given situation, we have shared cultural knowledge of how to behave depending on our role in society. Social norms dictate the behavior that is appropriate or inappropriate for each role. Each social role has scripts that help humans learn the sequence of appropriate behaviors in a given setting. The famous Stanford prison experiment is an example of how the power of the situation can dictate the social roles, norms, and scripts we follow in a given situation, even if this behavior is contrary to our typical behavior.

Review Questions

A(n) ________ is a set of group expectations for appropriate thoughts and behaviors of its members.

  • social role
  • social norm
  • attribution

On his first day of soccer practice, Jose suits up in a t-shirt, shorts, and cleats and runs out to the field to join his teammates. Jose’s behavior is reflective of ________.

  • social influence
  • good athletic behavior
  • normative behavior

When it comes to buying clothes, teenagers often follow social norms; this is likely motivated by ________.

  • following parents’ rules
  • saving money
  • looking good

In the Stanford prison experiment, even the lead researcher succumbed to his role as a prison supervisor. This is an example of the power of ________ influencing behavior.

  • social norms
  • social roles

Critical Thinking Questions

Why didn’t the “good” guards in the Stanford prison experiment object to other guards’ abusive behavior? Were the student prisoners simply weak people? Why didn’t they object to being abused?

The good guards were fulfilling their social roles and they did not object to other guards’ abusive behavior because of the power of the situation. In addition, the prison supervisor’s behavior sanctioned the guards’ negative treatment of prisoners. The prisoners were not weak people; they were recruited because they were healthy, mentally stable adults. The power of their social role influenced them to engage in subservient prisoner behavior. The script for prisoners is to accept abusive behavior from authority figures, especially for punishment, when they do not follow the rules.

Describe how social roles, social norms, and scripts were evident in the Stanford prison experiment. How can this experiment be applied to everyday life? Are there any more recent examples where people started fulfilling a role and became abusive?

Social roles were in play as each participant acted out behaviors appropriate to his role as prisoner, guard, or supervisor. Scripts determined the specific behaviors the guards and prisoners displayed, such as humiliation and passivity. The social norms of a prison environment sanctions abuse of prisoners since they have lost many of their human rights and became the property of the government. This experiment can be applied to other situations in which social norms, roles, and scripts dictate our behavior, such as in mob behavior. A more recent example of similar behavior was the abuse of prisoners by American soldiers who were working as prison guards at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Personal Application Questions

Try attending a religious service very different from your own and see how you feel and behave without knowing the appropriate script. Or, try attending an important, personal event that you have never attended before, such as a bar mitzvah (a coming-of-age ritual in Jewish culture), a quinceañera (in some Latin American cultures a party is given to a girl who is turning 15 years old), a wedding, a funeral, or a sporting event new to you, such as horse racing or bull riding. Observe and record your feelings and behaviors in this unfamiliar setting for which you lack the appropriate script. Do you silently observe the action, or do you ask another person for help interpreting the behaviors of people at the event? Describe in what ways your behavior would change if you were to attend a similar event in the future?

Name and describe at least three social roles you have adopted for yourself. Why did you adopt these roles? What are some roles that are expected of you, but that you try to resist?

Creative Commons License

Share This Book

  • Increase Font Size

SkillsYouNeed

  • PRESENTATION SKILLS

Self-Presentation in Presentations

Search SkillsYouNeed:

Presentation Skills:

  • A - Z List of Presentation Skills
  • Top Tips for Effective Presentations
  • General Presentation Skills
  • What is a Presentation?
  • Preparing for a Presentation
  • Organising the Material
  • Writing Your Presentation
  • Deciding the Presentation Method
  • Managing your Presentation Notes
  • Working with Visual Aids
  • Presenting Data
  • Managing the Event
  • Coping with Presentation Nerves
  • Dealing with Questions
  • How to Build Presentations Like a Consultant
  • 7 Qualities of Good Speakers That Can Help You Be More Successful
  • Specific Presentation Events
  • Remote Meetings and Presentations
  • Giving a Speech
  • Presentations in Interviews
  • Presenting to Large Groups and Conferences
  • Giving Lectures and Seminars
  • Managing a Press Conference
  • Attending Public Consultation Meetings
  • Managing a Public Consultation Meeting
  • Crisis Communications
  • Elsewhere on Skills You Need:
  • Communication Skills
  • Facilitation Skills
  • Teams, Groups and Meetings
  • Effective Speaking
  • Question Types

Subscribe to our FREE newsletter and start improving your life in just 5 minutes a day.

You'll get our 5 free 'One Minute Life Skills' and our weekly newsletter.

We'll never share your email address and you can unsubscribe at any time.

When you give a presentation, it is important to remember the whole package, and that means how you present yourself as well as how you present the material.

It is not good to spend hours and hours preparing a wonderful presentation and neglect the effect of your own appearance.

Whether you like it or not, people make judgements about you based on your appearance.

These judgements may be conscious or subconscious, but they all affect how, and whether, your audience is prepared to take on board your message as presenter.

Our pages on Personal Appearance and Personal Presentation explain the importance of presenting yourself effectively, more generally. This page focuses on the impact of self-presentation in presentations.

The Importance of Expectations

When you stand up to give a presentation, the audience already has certain expectations about how you will behave, and what you will say.

These expectations may be based on the event, the marketing, their knowledge of you, or their previous experience more generally.

Expectations may also be based on societal norms, such as business people are expected to wear suits.

You don’t have to match people’s expectations, of course, but you do need to be aware that, if you don’t, they are going to have to spend time processing that difference. This mismatch will take some of their concentration away from your message.

You also need to be aware that people can only take so much discomfort.

A mismatch between expectations and reality can even lead to a situation called cognitive dissonance , where individuals come into contact with something — whether idea, person, or belief — that causes them to question their own internal beliefs and values.

This can be very uncomfortable, and the normal reaction is to try to avoid it. In a presentation situation, that's going to mean either leaving or just not listening, neither of which is ideal.

This is particularly important if you want to say something that your audience will find difficult to hear.

If you want to say something outrageous, wear a suit.

The late Dr Joe Jaina, Organisational Psychologist at Cranfield School of Management.

Aspects of Personal Presentation

Your personal presentation includes:

  • Accessories, which in this context means anything that you’re carrying or wearing, including your notes, although it also includes luggage, bags, phones, jewellery, watches, and scarves;
  • Body language; and

Your clothes are probably the most obvious aspect of personal presentation.

In deciding what to wear, there are several things to consider:

What does the audience expect?

It’s not actually as simple as ‘wear a business suit’, because this may not always be appropriate.

It does depend what your audience is expecting. On some occasions, or in some industries, smart casual may be much more appropriate. If you’re not sure, ask the organisers about the dress code. You can also ask someone who has been to the event before, or have a look online.

If it’s a regular event, there will almost certainly be photographs of previous occasions and you can see what other people have worn.

Within the audience’s expectations, what will make you feel comfortable?

You will present best if you are fairly relaxed, so you need to find a balance between the audience’s expectations, and feeling comfortable.

For example, you may have a particular suit that you think makes you look good. For women, it’s also worth thinking about shoes: you’re going to have to stand for the duration of the session, so make sure that you can do that.

If you’re not used to heels, don’t wear them.

Your accessories should be consistent with your clothes.

That doesn’t mean that your bag needs to be the same colour as your jacket.  However, if you’re wearing a suit, your notes should be in a briefcase or smart bag, and you’re not carrying a backpack or plastic carrier bag. Again, it’s about not distracting your audience from your message.

Likewise, your notes should be part of your thinking. Producing a dog-eared sheaf of paper is not going to help you project a good image. Papers tend to flap about, whereas cue cards can be held on your hand, which is why it is worth considering using cue cards, or even memorising most of what you’re going to say and using your visual aids as cues.

See our page: Managing your Presentation Notes for more on this.

The Importance of Self-Presentation

In 2005, the Conservative Party in the UK faced a leadership election as leader Michael Howard announced that he would step down. The actual election was held between October and December that year. In October, at the Conservative Party Conference, each of the announced candidates was given an opportunity to make a 20-minute speech.

Before the speeches, David Davis was very much the front-runner in the competition. However, his conference speech was considered poor. He spoke from notes, and never really came alive. David Cameron, a more junior member of the party and considered by many an outside chance as leader, made a speech that set the hall alight. He spoke without notes, and with passion, presenting himself as the young, upcoming potential leader who could take the party in a new direction.

By the following morning, the bookies had David Cameron as the front-runner and he went on to win the leadership election.

Self-Presentation also Includes Body Language and Voice.

While there are many important elements of body language, perhaps the most important is to project self-confidence .

You need to demonstrate that you believe in what you’re saying. Otherwise, why would anyone else believe it?

For more about this, and other aspects of body language that may help your communication, see our pages on Managing a Presentation Event and Non-Verbal Communication .

Part of projecting self-belief is being able to control your voice, and speak slowly and clearly. You also need to vary your tone and pace to keep people interested.

For more about this, see our page on Effective Speaking .

In conclusion…

When you are making a presentation, you are presenting a package: you and your message. The more you are aware of the impact of every element, the more effective the package will be as a whole.

The Skills You Need Guide to Getting a Job

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Getting a Job

Develop the skills you need to get that job.

This eBook is essential reading for potential job-seekers. Not only does it cover identifying your skills but also the mechanics of applying for a job, writing a CV or resume and attending interviews.

Continue to: Presenting to Large Groups Top Tips for Effective Presentations

See also: Coping with Presentation Nerves Giving a Speech Presenting Data Building a Personal Brand

  • Search Menu
  • Browse content in Arts and Humanities
  • Browse content in Archaeology
  • Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology
  • Archaeological Methodology and Techniques
  • Archaeology by Region
  • Archaeology of Religion
  • Archaeology of Trade and Exchange
  • Biblical Archaeology
  • Contemporary and Public Archaeology
  • Environmental Archaeology
  • Historical Archaeology
  • History and Theory of Archaeology
  • Industrial Archaeology
  • Landscape Archaeology
  • Mortuary Archaeology
  • Prehistoric Archaeology
  • Underwater Archaeology
  • Zooarchaeology
  • Browse content in Architecture
  • Architectural Structure and Design
  • History of Architecture
  • Residential and Domestic Buildings
  • Theory of Architecture
  • Browse content in Art
  • Art Subjects and Themes
  • History of Art
  • Industrial and Commercial Art
  • Theory of Art
  • Biographical Studies
  • Byzantine Studies
  • Browse content in Classical Studies
  • Classical History
  • Classical Philosophy
  • Classical Mythology
  • Classical Literature
  • Classical Reception
  • Classical Art and Architecture
  • Classical Oratory and Rhetoric
  • Greek and Roman Papyrology
  • Greek and Roman Epigraphy
  • Greek and Roman Law
  • Greek and Roman Archaeology
  • Late Antiquity
  • Religion in the Ancient World
  • Digital Humanities
  • Browse content in History
  • Colonialism and Imperialism
  • Diplomatic History
  • Environmental History
  • Genealogy, Heraldry, Names, and Honours
  • Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing
  • Historical Geography
  • History by Period
  • History of Agriculture
  • History of Education
  • History of Gender and Sexuality
  • Industrial History
  • Intellectual History
  • International History
  • Labour History
  • Legal and Constitutional History
  • Local and Family History
  • Maritime History
  • Military History
  • National Liberation and Post-Colonialism
  • Oral History
  • Political History
  • Public History
  • Regional and National History
  • Revolutions and Rebellions
  • Slavery and Abolition of Slavery
  • Social and Cultural History
  • Theory, Methods, and Historiography
  • Urban History
  • World History
  • Browse content in Language Teaching and Learning
  • Language Learning (Specific Skills)
  • Language Teaching Theory and Methods
  • Browse content in Linguistics
  • Applied Linguistics
  • Cognitive Linguistics
  • Computational Linguistics
  • Forensic Linguistics
  • Grammar, Syntax and Morphology
  • Historical and Diachronic Linguistics
  • History of English
  • Language Evolution
  • Language Reference
  • Language Acquisition
  • Language Variation
  • Language Families
  • Lexicography
  • Linguistic Anthropology
  • Linguistic Theories
  • Linguistic Typology
  • Phonetics and Phonology
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Sociolinguistics
  • Translation and Interpretation
  • Writing Systems
  • Browse content in Literature
  • Bibliography
  • Children's Literature Studies
  • Literary Studies (Romanticism)
  • Literary Studies (American)
  • Literary Studies (Asian)
  • Literary Studies (European)
  • Literary Studies (Eco-criticism)
  • Literary Studies (Modernism)
  • Literary Studies - World
  • Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)
  • Literary Studies (19th Century)
  • Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)
  • Literary Studies (African American Literature)
  • Literary Studies (British and Irish)
  • Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)
  • Literary Studies (Fiction, Novelists, and Prose Writers)
  • Literary Studies (Gender Studies)
  • Literary Studies (Graphic Novels)
  • Literary Studies (History of the Book)
  • Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights)
  • Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)
  • Literary Studies (Postcolonial Literature)
  • Literary Studies (Queer Studies)
  • Literary Studies (Science Fiction)
  • Literary Studies (Travel Literature)
  • Literary Studies (War Literature)
  • Literary Studies (Women's Writing)
  • Literary Theory and Cultural Studies
  • Mythology and Folklore
  • Shakespeare Studies and Criticism
  • Browse content in Media Studies
  • Browse content in Music
  • Applied Music
  • Dance and Music
  • Ethics in Music
  • Ethnomusicology
  • Gender and Sexuality in Music
  • Medicine and Music
  • Music Cultures
  • Music and Media
  • Music and Religion
  • Music and Culture
  • Music Education and Pedagogy
  • Music Theory and Analysis
  • Musical Scores, Lyrics, and Libretti
  • Musical Structures, Styles, and Techniques
  • Musicology and Music History
  • Performance Practice and Studies
  • Race and Ethnicity in Music
  • Sound Studies
  • Browse content in Performing Arts
  • Browse content in Philosophy
  • Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art
  • Epistemology
  • Feminist Philosophy
  • History of Western Philosophy
  • Metaphysics
  • Moral Philosophy
  • Non-Western Philosophy
  • Philosophy of Language
  • Philosophy of Mind
  • Philosophy of Perception
  • Philosophy of Science
  • Philosophy of Action
  • Philosophy of Law
  • Philosophy of Religion
  • Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic
  • Practical Ethics
  • Social and Political Philosophy
  • Browse content in Religion
  • Biblical Studies
  • Christianity
  • East Asian Religions
  • History of Religion
  • Judaism and Jewish Studies
  • Qumran Studies
  • Religion and Education
  • Religion and Health
  • Religion and Politics
  • Religion and Science
  • Religion and Law
  • Religion and Art, Literature, and Music
  • Religious Studies
  • Browse content in Society and Culture
  • Cookery, Food, and Drink
  • Cultural Studies
  • Customs and Traditions
  • Ethical Issues and Debates
  • Hobbies, Games, Arts and Crafts
  • Lifestyle, Home, and Garden
  • Natural world, Country Life, and Pets
  • Popular Beliefs and Controversial Knowledge
  • Sports and Outdoor Recreation
  • Technology and Society
  • Travel and Holiday
  • Visual Culture
  • Browse content in Law
  • Arbitration
  • Browse content in Company and Commercial Law
  • Commercial Law
  • Company Law
  • Browse content in Comparative Law
  • Systems of Law
  • Competition Law
  • Browse content in Constitutional and Administrative Law
  • Government Powers
  • Judicial Review
  • Local Government Law
  • Military and Defence Law
  • Parliamentary and Legislative Practice
  • Construction Law
  • Contract Law
  • Browse content in Criminal Law
  • Criminal Procedure
  • Criminal Evidence Law
  • Sentencing and Punishment
  • Employment and Labour Law
  • Environment and Energy Law
  • Browse content in Financial Law
  • Banking Law
  • Insolvency Law
  • History of Law
  • Human Rights and Immigration
  • Intellectual Property Law
  • Browse content in International Law
  • Private International Law and Conflict of Laws
  • Public International Law
  • IT and Communications Law
  • Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law
  • Law and Politics
  • Law and Society
  • Browse content in Legal System and Practice
  • Courts and Procedure
  • Legal Skills and Practice
  • Primary Sources of Law
  • Regulation of Legal Profession
  • Medical and Healthcare Law
  • Browse content in Policing
  • Criminal Investigation and Detection
  • Police and Security Services
  • Police Procedure and Law
  • Police Regional Planning
  • Browse content in Property Law
  • Personal Property Law
  • Study and Revision
  • Terrorism and National Security Law
  • Browse content in Trusts Law
  • Wills and Probate or Succession
  • Browse content in Medicine and Health
  • Browse content in Allied Health Professions
  • Arts Therapies
  • Clinical Science
  • Dietetics and Nutrition
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Operating Department Practice
  • Physiotherapy
  • Radiography
  • Speech and Language Therapy
  • Browse content in Anaesthetics
  • General Anaesthesia
  • Neuroanaesthesia
  • Clinical Neuroscience
  • Browse content in Clinical Medicine
  • Acute Medicine
  • Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Clinical Genetics
  • Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics
  • Dermatology
  • Endocrinology and Diabetes
  • Gastroenterology
  • Genito-urinary Medicine
  • Geriatric Medicine
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Medical Toxicology
  • Medical Oncology
  • Pain Medicine
  • Palliative Medicine
  • Rehabilitation Medicine
  • Respiratory Medicine and Pulmonology
  • Rheumatology
  • Sleep Medicine
  • Sports and Exercise Medicine
  • Community Medical Services
  • Critical Care
  • Emergency Medicine
  • Forensic Medicine
  • Haematology
  • History of Medicine
  • Browse content in Medical Skills
  • Clinical Skills
  • Communication Skills
  • Nursing Skills
  • Surgical Skills
  • Browse content in Medical Dentistry
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
  • Paediatric Dentistry
  • Restorative Dentistry and Orthodontics
  • Surgical Dentistry
  • Medical Ethics
  • Medical Statistics and Methodology
  • Browse content in Neurology
  • Clinical Neurophysiology
  • Neuropathology
  • Nursing Studies
  • Browse content in Obstetrics and Gynaecology
  • Gynaecology
  • Occupational Medicine
  • Ophthalmology
  • Otolaryngology (ENT)
  • Browse content in Paediatrics
  • Neonatology
  • Browse content in Pathology
  • Chemical Pathology
  • Clinical Cytogenetics and Molecular Genetics
  • Histopathology
  • Medical Microbiology and Virology
  • Patient Education and Information
  • Browse content in Pharmacology
  • Psychopharmacology
  • Browse content in Popular Health
  • Caring for Others
  • Complementary and Alternative Medicine
  • Self-help and Personal Development
  • Browse content in Preclinical Medicine
  • Cell Biology
  • Molecular Biology and Genetics
  • Reproduction, Growth and Development
  • Primary Care
  • Professional Development in Medicine
  • Browse content in Psychiatry
  • Addiction Medicine
  • Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
  • Forensic Psychiatry
  • Learning Disabilities
  • Old Age Psychiatry
  • Psychotherapy
  • Browse content in Public Health and Epidemiology
  • Epidemiology
  • Public Health
  • Browse content in Radiology
  • Clinical Radiology
  • Interventional Radiology
  • Nuclear Medicine
  • Radiation Oncology
  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Browse content in Surgery
  • Cardiothoracic Surgery
  • Gastro-intestinal and Colorectal Surgery
  • General Surgery
  • Neurosurgery
  • Paediatric Surgery
  • Peri-operative Care
  • Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery
  • Surgical Oncology
  • Transplant Surgery
  • Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgery
  • Vascular Surgery
  • Browse content in Science and Mathematics
  • Browse content in Biological Sciences
  • Aquatic Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Bioinformatics and Computational Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Genetics and Genomics
  • Microbiology
  • Molecular and Cell Biology
  • Natural History
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry
  • Research Methods in Life Sciences
  • Structural Biology
  • Systems Biology
  • Zoology and Animal Sciences
  • Browse content in Chemistry
  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Computational Chemistry
  • Crystallography
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Industrial Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • Materials Chemistry
  • Medicinal Chemistry
  • Mineralogy and Gems
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Physical Chemistry
  • Polymer Chemistry
  • Study and Communication Skills in Chemistry
  • Theoretical Chemistry
  • Browse content in Computer Science
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Computer Architecture and Logic Design
  • Game Studies
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Mathematical Theory of Computation
  • Programming Languages
  • Software Engineering
  • Systems Analysis and Design
  • Virtual Reality
  • Browse content in Computing
  • Business Applications
  • Computer Security
  • Computer Games
  • Computer Networking and Communications
  • Digital Lifestyle
  • Graphical and Digital Media Applications
  • Operating Systems
  • Browse content in Earth Sciences and Geography
  • Atmospheric Sciences
  • Environmental Geography
  • Geology and the Lithosphere
  • Maps and Map-making
  • Meteorology and Climatology
  • Oceanography and Hydrology
  • Palaeontology
  • Physical Geography and Topography
  • Regional Geography
  • Soil Science
  • Urban Geography
  • Browse content in Engineering and Technology
  • Agriculture and Farming
  • Biological Engineering
  • Civil Engineering, Surveying, and Building
  • Electronics and Communications Engineering
  • Energy Technology
  • Engineering (General)
  • Environmental Science, Engineering, and Technology
  • History of Engineering and Technology
  • Mechanical Engineering and Materials
  • Technology of Industrial Chemistry
  • Transport Technology and Trades
  • Browse content in Environmental Science
  • Applied Ecology (Environmental Science)
  • Conservation of the Environment (Environmental Science)
  • Environmental Sustainability
  • Environmentalist Thought and Ideology (Environmental Science)
  • Management of Land and Natural Resources (Environmental Science)
  • Natural Disasters (Environmental Science)
  • Nuclear Issues (Environmental Science)
  • Pollution and Threats to the Environment (Environmental Science)
  • Social Impact of Environmental Issues (Environmental Science)
  • History of Science and Technology
  • Browse content in Materials Science
  • Ceramics and Glasses
  • Composite Materials
  • Metals, Alloying, and Corrosion
  • Nanotechnology
  • Browse content in Mathematics
  • Applied Mathematics
  • Biomathematics and Statistics
  • History of Mathematics
  • Mathematical Education
  • Mathematical Finance
  • Mathematical Analysis
  • Numerical and Computational Mathematics
  • Probability and Statistics
  • Pure Mathematics
  • Browse content in Neuroscience
  • Cognition and Behavioural Neuroscience
  • Development of the Nervous System
  • Disorders of the Nervous System
  • History of Neuroscience
  • Invertebrate Neurobiology
  • Molecular and Cellular Systems
  • Neuroendocrinology and Autonomic Nervous System
  • Neuroscientific Techniques
  • Sensory and Motor Systems
  • Browse content in Physics
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics
  • Biological and Medical Physics
  • Classical Mechanics
  • Computational Physics
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Electromagnetism, Optics, and Acoustics
  • History of Physics
  • Mathematical and Statistical Physics
  • Measurement Science
  • Nuclear Physics
  • Particles and Fields
  • Plasma Physics
  • Quantum Physics
  • Relativity and Gravitation
  • Semiconductor and Mesoscopic Physics
  • Browse content in Psychology
  • Affective Sciences
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Criminal and Forensic Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Educational Psychology
  • Evolutionary Psychology
  • Health Psychology
  • History and Systems in Psychology
  • Music Psychology
  • Neuropsychology
  • Organizational Psychology
  • Psychological Assessment and Testing
  • Psychology of Human-Technology Interaction
  • Psychology Professional Development and Training
  • Research Methods in Psychology
  • Social Psychology
  • Browse content in Social Sciences
  • Browse content in Anthropology
  • Anthropology of Religion
  • Human Evolution
  • Medical Anthropology
  • Physical Anthropology
  • Regional Anthropology
  • Social and Cultural Anthropology
  • Theory and Practice of Anthropology
  • Browse content in Business and Management
  • Business Ethics
  • Business Strategy
  • Business History
  • Business and Technology
  • Business and Government
  • Business and the Environment
  • Comparative Management
  • Corporate Governance
  • Corporate Social Responsibility
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Health Management
  • Human Resource Management
  • Industrial and Employment Relations
  • Industry Studies
  • Information and Communication Technologies
  • International Business
  • Knowledge Management
  • Management and Management Techniques
  • Operations Management
  • Organizational Theory and Behaviour
  • Pensions and Pension Management
  • Public and Nonprofit Management
  • Strategic Management
  • Supply Chain Management
  • Browse content in Criminology and Criminal Justice
  • Criminal Justice
  • Criminology
  • Forms of Crime
  • International and Comparative Criminology
  • Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice
  • Development Studies
  • Browse content in Economics
  • Agricultural, Environmental, and Natural Resource Economics
  • Asian Economics
  • Behavioural Finance
  • Behavioural Economics and Neuroeconomics
  • Econometrics and Mathematical Economics
  • Economic History
  • Economic Systems
  • Economic Methodology
  • Economic Development and Growth
  • Financial Markets
  • Financial Institutions and Services
  • General Economics and Teaching
  • Health, Education, and Welfare
  • History of Economic Thought
  • International Economics
  • Labour and Demographic Economics
  • Law and Economics
  • Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics
  • Microeconomics
  • Public Economics
  • Urban, Rural, and Regional Economics
  • Welfare Economics
  • Browse content in Education
  • Adult Education and Continuous Learning
  • Care and Counselling of Students
  • Early Childhood and Elementary Education
  • Educational Equipment and Technology
  • Educational Strategies and Policy
  • Higher and Further Education
  • Organization and Management of Education
  • Philosophy and Theory of Education
  • Schools Studies
  • Secondary Education
  • Teaching of a Specific Subject
  • Teaching of Specific Groups and Special Educational Needs
  • Teaching Skills and Techniques
  • Browse content in Environment
  • Applied Ecology (Social Science)
  • Climate Change
  • Conservation of the Environment (Social Science)
  • Environmentalist Thought and Ideology (Social Science)
  • Social Impact of Environmental Issues (Social Science)
  • Browse content in Human Geography
  • Cultural Geography
  • Economic Geography
  • Political Geography
  • Browse content in Interdisciplinary Studies
  • Communication Studies
  • Museums, Libraries, and Information Sciences
  • Browse content in Politics
  • African Politics
  • Asian Politics
  • Chinese Politics
  • Comparative Politics
  • Conflict Politics
  • Elections and Electoral Studies
  • Environmental Politics
  • European Union
  • Foreign Policy
  • Gender and Politics
  • Human Rights and Politics
  • Indian Politics
  • International Relations
  • International Organization (Politics)
  • International Political Economy
  • Irish Politics
  • Latin American Politics
  • Middle Eastern Politics
  • Political Behaviour
  • Political Economy
  • Political Institutions
  • Political Methodology
  • Political Communication
  • Political Philosophy
  • Political Sociology
  • Political Theory
  • Politics and Law
  • Public Policy
  • Public Administration
  • Quantitative Political Methodology
  • Regional Political Studies
  • Russian Politics
  • Security Studies
  • State and Local Government
  • UK Politics
  • US Politics
  • Browse content in Regional and Area Studies
  • African Studies
  • Asian Studies
  • East Asian Studies
  • Japanese Studies
  • Latin American Studies
  • Middle Eastern Studies
  • Native American Studies
  • Scottish Studies
  • Browse content in Research and Information
  • Research Methods
  • Browse content in Social Work
  • Addictions and Substance Misuse
  • Adoption and Fostering
  • Care of the Elderly
  • Child and Adolescent Social Work
  • Couple and Family Social Work
  • Developmental and Physical Disabilities Social Work
  • Direct Practice and Clinical Social Work
  • Emergency Services
  • Human Behaviour and the Social Environment
  • International and Global Issues in Social Work
  • Mental and Behavioural Health
  • Social Justice and Human Rights
  • Social Policy and Advocacy
  • Social Work and Crime and Justice
  • Social Work Macro Practice
  • Social Work Practice Settings
  • Social Work Research and Evidence-based Practice
  • Welfare and Benefit Systems
  • Browse content in Sociology
  • Childhood Studies
  • Community Development
  • Comparative and Historical Sociology
  • Economic Sociology
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Gerontology and Ageing
  • Health, Illness, and Medicine
  • Marriage and the Family
  • Migration Studies
  • Occupations, Professions, and Work
  • Organizations
  • Population and Demography
  • Race and Ethnicity
  • Social Theory
  • Social Movements and Social Change
  • Social Research and Statistics
  • Social Stratification, Inequality, and Mobility
  • Sociology of Religion
  • Sociology of Education
  • Sport and Leisure
  • Urban and Rural Studies
  • Browse content in Warfare and Defence
  • Defence Strategy, Planning, and Research
  • Land Forces and Warfare
  • Military Administration
  • Military Life and Institutions
  • Naval Forces and Warfare
  • Other Warfare and Defence Issues
  • Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution
  • Weapons and Equipment

The Oxford Handbook of Social Influence

  • < Previous chapter
  • Next chapter >

13 Self-Presentation and Social Influence: Evidence for an Automatic Process

Purdue University, Department of Psychological Sciences

  • Published: 10 September 2015
  • Cite Icon Cite
  • Permissions Icon Permissions

Self-presentation is a social influence tactic in which people engage in communicative efforts to influence the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of others as related to the self-presenter. Despite theoretical arguments that such efforts comprise an automatic component, the majority of research continues to characterize self-presentation as primarily involving controlled and strategic efforts. This focus is theoretically challenging and empirically problematic; it fosters an exclusionary perspective, leading to a scarcity of research concerning automatic self-presentations. With the current chapter, we examine whether self-presentation involves an automatic cognitive mechanism in which such efforts spontaneously emerge, nonconsciously triggered by cues in the social environment.

In his classic work, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life , Erving Goffman (1959) popularized the concept of self-presentation, describing social life as a series of behavioral performances that symbolically communicate information about the self to others. Since the publication of this seminal work, research on self-presentation has bourgeoned, emerging as a fundamental topic in social psychology, as well as numerous other disciplines ranging from communication to organizational behavior and management. The breadth of work ranges from examining “the targets of people’s self-presentation attempts to the levels of awareness at which self-presentation efforts may be enacted” ( DePaulo, 1992 , p. 204).

Although theorists frame self-presentation from slightly different theoretical perspectives, there is agreement that the overarching goal of self-presentation falls under the umbrella of social influence, in that people’s self-presentations are aimed at influencing how others perceive them and behave toward them. Leary and Kowalski (1990) succinctly capture this goal in their characterization of self-presentation as including “all behavioral attempts to create impressions in others’ minds” (p. 39). The reason why people self-present is built on their recognition that the impressions others hold of them have important influences on desired outcomes ranging across a variety of life domains. Conveying desired identity-images provides a framework for people’s social relationships, holds direct and indirect implications for the achievement of occupational and financial goals, and satisfies important intra- and interpersonal functions ( Leary, Allen, & Terry, 2011 ; Schlenker, 2003 ). In all, self-presentation is a social influence tactic in which people engage in efforts to influence the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of others as applied and related to the self-presenter.

There is abundant research examining various aspects of self-presentation; however, the literature remains replete with a number of entrenched misconceptions. One particularly persistent belief that continues to plague self-presentation research involves the implicit or explicit assumption that most if not all self-presentation involves conscious and deliberate efforts. The definitional words that researchers use to characterize self-presentation typically emphasize and focus on words like controlling, deliberate , and strategic . Self-presentation efforts are also frequently described as people trying to or attempting to influence the impression others form of them. Even Goffman (1959) defined self-presentation as a process in which people strategically control the inferences that others draw about them. We argue that the obvious face value of these types of words are heavily skewed toward controlled and deliberate efforts, and as such have exerted both an unbalanced and inaccurate influence on the resulting direction that most empirical research lines follow.

Although there has been a good deal of theoretical discussion focused on automatic self-presentation, there is a scarcity of empirical work, and the degree to which this work supports the viability of an automatic self-presentational component has not been fully vetted or reviewed. In this chapter, we focus on evaluating the hypothesis that the self-presentation process involves an automatic cognitive mechanism in which people spontaneously engage in automatic self-presentational efforts. We examine whether automatic self-presentations emerge of their own accord nonconsciously triggered by context cues, in the absence of direct instructional prompts. We also seek to actively draw attention to the dearth of empirical work examining automatic self-presentation; by doing so we hope to encourage researchers to more fully explore this vitally important feature of interpersonal behavior. To foreshadow our overall conclusion, although some evidence supports the general tenets of automatic self-presentation, it remains unclear empirically whether such efforts are truly emerging via a nonconscious mechanism. The key elements concerning such a mechanism relate primarily to the awareness (i.e., behavior is activated outside of conscious awareness) and involuntary (i.e., behavior is initiated by certain cues or prompts in the situation) features of automaticity as described by Bargh (1996) .

Our summary to date clearly begs the question: Why is construing self-presentation as primarily involving controlled and strategic actions, while giving short shrift to nonconscious efforts, necessarily a problem? To reiterate, self-presentations are typically described as involving controlled and deliberate actions that are grounded in the implicit or explicit belief that self-presentation includes only conscious efforts that are meant to explicitly influence others’ impressions. We argue that characterizing self-presentation as solely deliberate has the negative consequence of fostering an exclusionary research perspective, which results in severely limiting research attention to a narrower bandwidth of social situations. Such a narrow conceptual approach characterizes self-presentation as primarily occurring only in limited situations in which people are deliberately trying to control the conveyance of self-information to others. Put differently, if people are not consciously trying to communicate a desired image, it is simply assumed they are not engaging in self-presentation at all (see Schlenker, 2003 ).

These fundamental constraints shape and impact the theoretical and conceptual foundations of most self-presentation research. The majority of paradigms explicitly and directly provide participants with self-presentational instructions, narrowly focusing empirical attention on controlled and deliberate self-presentational efforts. Participants are instructed to consciously think about the particular impression they are trying to convey, and of importance, the impression per se becomes the focal goal, rather than framing the presented identity as a means to achieve another type of valued goal ( Leary et al., 2011 ).

Emphasizing that self-presentations comprise only controlled and strategic efforts also further promotes one of the most widespread misconceptions about self-presentation, which holds that such efforts are inherently false, manipulative, and duplicitous. Although certainly self-presentations can involve deception, for the most part, people’s efforts reflect an accurate, if slightly embellished portrayal of themselves ( Back et al., 2010 ; Leary & Allen, 2011 ; Wilson, Gosling, & Graham, 2012 ).

Our summary is not meant to suggest that examining controlled self-presentations has been an unproductive strategy; such approaches have generated useful and valuable findings concerning basic self-presentational processes. Nonetheless, we argue that adopting a limited conceptualization of self-presentation as primarily involving controlled efforts results in an artificially narrow empirical framework. This serves to restrict the field of inquiry to arguably only a small and specific slice of self-presentation behavior, while relatively ignoring the broader automatic component ( Leary et al., 2011 ; Schlenker, 2003 ). Focusing on the strategically controlled aspects of self-presentation has left a lingering theoretical residual, resulting in forceful, but misguided assumptions that continue to reinforce and propagate the common misperception that all, or at least most of self-presentation involves conscious and deliberate efforts.

However, like most other social behaviors, self-presentation has also been characterized in theoretical terms as comprising dual processes involving conscious and nonconscious behaviors (e.g., Leary & Kowalski, 1990 ; Paulhus, 1993 ; Schlenker, 2003 ). In that spirit, theorists argue that self-presentations more often occur in an automatic rather than controlled fashion, and that the intentions underlying the initiation of such efforts do not necessarily have to be conscious. For instance, Paulhus (1993) suggests an automatic path for self-presentation that focuses on people’s tendency to communicate overly positive self-descriptions; Hogan (1983) proposed that self-presentational efforts often involve automatic and modularized behavior, unfolding in a nonconscious fashion; Baumeister (1982) posited that the intention behind self-presentation need not be conscious; while Leary and Kowalski (1990) suggest that people nonconsciously monitor others’ impressions of them and engage in automatic self-presentation when impression-relevant cues are detected.

Schlenker (2003) also proposed that context cues guide self-presentations outside of conscious awareness and trigger interpersonal goals, behavior, and motivation, and once activated, these nonconscious efforts continue until the desired goal or outcome is achieved. Schlenker goes on to argue that many self-presentations are characteristic of goal-dependent forms of automatic behavior. Evidence concerning social behavior, in general, shows that “goal pursuit can arise from mental processes put into motion by features of the social environment outside of conscious awareness … with the assumption that goals are represented in mental structures that include the context, the goal, and the actions to aid goal pursuit, and thus goals can be triggered automatically by relevant environmental stimuli” ( Custers & Aarts, 2005 , p. 129). The goal activation sequence and the operations to obtain a particular goal can unfold in the absence of a person’s intention or awareness.

In much the same manner, self-presentations can be conceptualized as being nonconsciously activated by features of the social environment ( Schlenker, 2003 ). This suggests that self-presentations comprise cognitive structures that include the context, the goal, and the actions to achieve the goal, and like other social behaviors, these efforts can be automatically triggered by environmental stimuli. People strive to achieve a self-presentation goal, although they are often not aware that such efforts have been activated. As a result, they do not characterize their behavior as self-presentation, in that they do not view themselves as self-consciously and purposefully trying to achieve impression-oriented goals. A key element underscoring automatic self-presentations is the assertion that such efforts comprise “behaviors that consist of modulated, habit-formed patterns of action” or consist of “an individual’s most well-practiced set of self-attributes” ( Paulhus, 1993 , p. 576; Schlenker & Pontari, 2000 , p. 205). Characterizing automatic self-presentations as habitual patterns of behavior finds broad conceptual support from the more general theorizing on habitual responding. For example, theorists’ perspective concerning the relationship between context-cueing and self-presentational efforts dovetails nicely with the general framework of habit performance as outlined in Wood and Neal’s (2007) habit model. We will highlight conceptual areas of relevance where appropriate, focusing attention on propositions drawn from Wood and Neal’s model. In summary, theorists argue that self-presentations can unfold in an automatic or habitual manner via a context-cueing process; these efforts are guided outside of conscious awareness when interpersonal goals, behavior, and motivation are automatically triggered by context cues in the social environment. Once activated, people’s self-presentations persist until the desired goal is achieved.

Our goal, in the sections to follow, is to examine the degree to which relevant literature supports the proposition of an automatic self-presentational process (for more controlled aspects, see Schlenker, Britt, & Pennington, 1996 ; Schlenker, & Pontari, 2000 ). Before delving into the empirical evidence, we first briefly outline one theoretical perspective—the self-identification theory—that provides a succinct and integrative framework to conceptualize and illustrate the processes and mechanisms thought to be involved in automatic self-presentation (Schlenker, 1985 , 2003 ). Although there are other automatic self-presentation models (e.g., Paulhus, 1993 ), the self-identification theory is arguably the most comprehensive one; areas of overlap with other approaches will be noted where appropriate.

Self-Identification Theory

Self-identification theory characterizes self-presentation as a common and pervasive feature of social life in which self-identification is broadly described as the process with which people attempt to demonstrate that they are a particular type of person. More formally, self-presentation is defined as a “goal-directed activity in which people communicate identity-images for themselves with audiences by behaving in ways that convey certain roles and personal qualities. They do so in order to influence the impressions that others form of them” ( Schlenker, 2003 , p. 492). The communication of identity-images provides a framework for people’s relationships, holds direct and indirect implications for the outcomes and goals that people receive, and satisfies valued intra- and interpersonal functions. Self-identification theory posits that communicating specific identity-images, via self-presentation, is a key aspect of interpersonal interactions.

Identity-images are desirable in that they typically embody what people would like to be within the parameters of their abilities, appearance, and history. These images often involve beneficial self-identifications that are structured to serve a person’s interpersonal goals ( Schlenker, 2003 ). In the parlance of self-identification theory the combination of a desired identity-image and a corresponding behavioral script is defined as an agenda , which is activated by context cues in the social environment ( Schlenker, 2003 ).

Although people are frequently motivated to achieve multiple agendas, the limits of cognitive capacity minimize the number of agendas that can simultaneously occupy the foreground of attention ( Paulhus, 1993 ). Some agendas necessarily receive greater attention, effort, and monitoring than others, with those considered more relevant operating in the foreground and those of less concern unfolding in the background. Imagine a computer running numerous programs—some open, contents displayed and attentively monitored and examined, whereas others are minimized, operating behind the scenes, working on tasks but not distracting the operator unless a reason or purpose to check them arises (this metaphor is borrowed from Schlenker & Pontari, 2000 ). In a similar fashion, agendas focusing on self-presentation concerns, involving the goal of communicating a particular impression to an audience, can be more or less in the foreground of conscious awareness. This leads us directly to an overview of background-automatic and foreground-controlled modes of self-presentation as described in the self-identification theory.

Foreground Self-Presentation

Self-presentation agendas that operate in the foreground are characterized as involving consciously controlled attention, with people exerting significant cognitive resources to plan and implement their behaviors. Such efforts consume cognitive attention by requiring people to first access self-information, after doing so they must synthesize and integrate the information in a manner relevant to an interaction and prepare it for expression; people make judgments about what to say and about how to communicate it to others. In doing so, people stay more alert and aware, consciously scanning and monitoring the environment to assess their behaviors and audience reactions. They engage in these efforts, in part, to accomplish the goal of communicating desired identity-images. Foreground self-presentations represent those occasions that people are most likely to report being on stage and consciously concerned with the impression they project to others ( Schlenker, 2003 ).

The antecedent conditions that direct self-presentation agendas to operate in the foreground involve broad features of the situation, the audience, and people’s interaction goals. People more thoroughly process a social situation when they perceive that the situation is important, in that their performance bears on their desired identity; involves positive or negative outcomes; or is relevant to valued role expectations. The motivation to process a situation is also more likely to increase when people expect or encounter a potential impediment (e.g., critical audience) to achieving their desired self-presentation goals ( Schlenker et al., 1996 ). This outline of foreground self-presentations is consistent with Paulhus’s (1993) description of controlled self-presentations; he posits that such efforts require attentional resources to consider one’s desired self-presentation goal and the target audience, prior to the delivery of any particular self-description. In summary, self-presentation agendas become salient, moving from the background to the foreground when the context is perceived as important or when obstacles impede the successful communication of a desired identity-image ( Schlenker et al., 1994 ).

Background Self-Presentation

In contrast and key to the current chapter, self-presentation agendas that operate in the background are conceptualized as automatically guided by goal-directed behavior, operating with minimal conscious cognitive attention or effort. This representation is akin to Bargh’s (1996) proposition that “automatic processes can be intentional; well-learned social scripts and social action sequences can be guided by intended, goal-dependent automaticity,” which refers to an autonomous process that requires the intention that an action occur, but requires no conscious guidance once the action begins to operate (p. 174). Like Bargh, Schlenker (2003) argues that self-presentations with familiar others, or those involving well-learned behavioral patterns and scripts, are characteristic of an intended, goal-dependent form of automaticity. Here, self-presentations involve an automatic process in which cues in the social milieu direct self-presentations in the absence of conscious awareness and trigger interpersonal goals, behavior, and motivation. Once activated, these efforts are maintained until the desired goal or outcome is achieved ( Paulhus, Graf, & Van Selst, 1989 ; Schlenker, 2003 ).

Theorists propose that background self-presentation agendas are automatically activated based on overlearned responses to social contingencies. This description is similar to Paulhus’s (1993) idea that automatic self-presentation is a residual of overlearned situationally specific self-presentations. These overlearned responses include scripts that provide an efficient and nonconscious guidance system to construct a desired identity-image. Context-contingent cues (e.g., audience) converge in the background to trigger automatic self-presentation agendas. People are often not aware that these efforts have been activated and, as a result, do not characterize their communications or behavior as self-presentation, in that they do not view themselves as self-consciously and effortfully attempting to achieve impression-oriented goals ( Schlenker et al., 1996 ).

While background self-presentation agendas unfold, people nonconsciously monitor their behavior and the audience’s responses to ensure a proper construal of a desired impression. For these automatic efforts to be overridden by conscious, controlled processing, at least two requirements need to occur. First, people must be motivated to think or act differently than what occurs automatically, and second, they must have the cognitive resources to support the flexible, relatively unusual sequence of actions ( Schlenker, 2003 ). If a deviation from a social script or an impediment is detected, the agenda can pop into the foreground. As a result, attention is drawn to conscious awareness to correct the misimpression and to achieve one’s self-presentation goals, shifting self-presentation agendas from a background to a foreground mode of operation. This attention-drawing process is akin to Paulhus’s (1993) automatic self-presentation model, where affect regulates that attention is directed toward any glitch in an activity that is currently unfolding via an automatic process.

Characterizing automatic self-presentation as habit-like is also consistent with theoretical descriptions of habits in general, as outlined in Wood and Neal’s (2007) habit model. They argue that the “automaticity underlying habits builds on patterns of repeated covariation between the features of performance contexts and responses—that is, habits are defined as learned dispositions to repeat past responses” (Wood & Neal, p. 843). Once the habitual response is created, it can be triggered when an individual perceives relevant cues that are embedded in the performance context. Even though habits are not necessarily mediated by a goal, they can also advance the original goal that first impelled people to repetitively perform the context-response, which in effect resulted in the formation of the habit ( Aarts & Dijksterhuis, 2000 ; Verplanken & Aarts, 1999 ). Habits and goals interface, in that habit associations are initially formed under the guidance of goals: “goals direct control of responses prior to habit formation, and thus define the cuing contexts under which a response is repeated into a habit” (p. 851). Theorists posit that self-presentations can become so well practiced that they operate like mindless habits that are triggered nonconsciously by environmental cues and unfold in an automatic fashion, similar to the operational processes associated with habit responding as described by Wood and Neal.

Having outlined the theoretical foundation for automatic self-presentations, we now examine research germane to the key question underscoring the current chapter: Do automatic self-presentations emerge of their own accord nonconsciously triggered by context cues, in the absence of direct instructional prompts? Following a review of this evidence, we provide discussion and critical assessment.

Evidence for Automatic Self-Presentation

Although the self-presentation literature includes a voluminous number of studies, the vast majority does not include measurements or manipulations that can be interpreted as depicting automatic self-presentation. Rather, previous work primarily centered on identifying self-presentation strategies, discerning when self-presentation will or will not occur, and determining whether such efforts communicate self-beliefs accurately or in a self-serving manner, promote self-consistency or maximize self-esteem, or depict self-enhancement or self-protective purposes (see Schlenker et al., 1996 ). There are a number of studies, however, that either directly involve the manipulation of self-presentational automaticity or focus attention on self-presentation behaviors that can be viewed as unfolding via an automatic process. Review of these studies will be divided into sections; the first four relate to the availability of cognitive resources during self-presentation and its effect on recall, self-presentation effectiveness, reaction times , and self-description , followed by sections focused on the availability of self-regulatory resources during self-presentations and the implicit activation of self-presentational efforts.

The first four sections examine the cognitive effects of automatic self-presentation, beginning with the general concept that there is a limit to people’s cognitive resources, and effectively attending to simultaneous activities that require cognitive effort is difficult ( Bargh, 1996 ). These limitations in cognitive capacity enable researchers to use empirical methods to investigate the differences between automatic and controlled self-presentations. Introducing a second, cognitively effortful activity generates nominal interference with a concurrent task if a process is automatic; however, this second task significantly interrupts the ongoing efforts if the process is controlled.

The Availability of Cognitive Resources during Self-Presentation and Its Effect on Recall

Given the proposition that automaticity consumes minimal cognitive resources, it follows that people should be able to more efficiently process information when delivering automatic self-presentations. To override these automatic efforts, however, more controlled self-presentations require an increase in cognitive resources ( Schlenker, 2003 ). As a result, controlled rather than automatic self-presentations may disrupt the processing of information ( Schlenker, 1986 ). To demonstrate empirically the presence of automatic self-presentations, the studies in this first section focus on the differential effects of automatic and controlled self-presentations on subsequent recall.

It is important to preface the studies that address this issue by emphasizing that Western norms typically favor positive self-presentations (e.g., Schlenker, 1980 ; see also Baumeister & Jones, 1978 ; Jones & Wortman, 1973 ). People are far more practiced at conveying a self-promoting identity-image (i.e., automatic self-presentation) rather than a self-depreciating one (i.e., controlled self-presentation). Self-promotion efforts would be expected to leave more cognitive resources available to process information and ultimately should have less negative impact on recall. However, engaging in self-deprecation—a controlled self-presentation—should remove the automaticity of self-presentation, increasing the demand for cognitive resources. These expectations found support across a series of studies in which participants displayed significantly better recall of interaction details when their social interaction comprised automatic compared to controlled self-presentations ( Baumeister, Hutton, & Tice, 1989 ).

Evidence also indicates that a key determinant of people’s self-presentations is whether an interaction involves strangers or friends ( Tice, Butler, Muraven, & Stillwell, 1995 ). From this work we know that certain constraints and contingencies position the communication of a favorable image as the optimal way to self-present to strangers, whereas a more modest identity approach prevails among friends. If these self-presentation patterns are habitually used, they should be relatively automatic, requiring minimal cognitive resources for encoding, leading to more accurate recall. Violation of these patterns, however, should trigger controlled self-presentations, requiring more cognitive resources, consequently impairing accurate recall. Like Baumeister et al., (1989) , this work also shows that when participants engaged in automatic self-presentations— they interacted with a stranger in a self-promoting manner or with a friend in a modest manner —their recall of interaction details was significantly better compared to when they engaged in controlled self-presentations— they interacted with a stranger in a modest fashion or with a friend in a self-promoting manner . Follow-up studies replicated these results and additionally demonstrated that even when recalling a stranger’s behavior people made fewer recall errors when engaged in automatic self-presentations rather than controlled ones ( Tice et al., 1995 ).

The Availability of Cognitive Resources during Self-Presentation and Its Effect on Self-Presentational Effectiveness

The studies in the prior section demonstrate that the automatic-controlled self-presentation process involves the availability of cognitive resources and, in part, familiarity with the self-presentational context. Automatic self-presentations are characterized by familiar and habitual self-presentations, which require minimal cognitive resources. It follows that under low cognitive demand people should be able to engage effectively in the self-presentation of familiar identity-images but also unfamiliar ones as well. In contrast, controlled self-presentations are characterized by unfamiliar and atypical self-presentations, which require increased cognitive resources. It can then be reasoned that under high cognitive demand people’s capacity to engage effectively in the self-presentation of unfamiliar identity-images will be negatively impacted, whereas the effectiveness of self-presenting a familiar identity-image should not suffer. To demonstrate an automatic self-presentation process, the studies in the second section focus on the effect that automatic and controlled self-presentations have on people’s self-presentational effectiveness.

In this first set of studies, Pontari and Schlenker (2000) interviewed extraverted and introverted individuals under low- or high-cognitive load conditions. As part of the instructions, these individuals were told to convey either an extraverted or introverted identity-image to the interviewer. It was thought that participants who enacted congruent self-presentations, for example, an extravert acting as an extravert, were acting consistently with their self-schemata. They delivered familiar and relatively automatic self-presentations, requiring minimal cognitive resources. In contrast, those who enacted incongruent self-presentations, for example, an extravert acting as an introvert, were acting inconsistently with their self-schemata. They delivered unfamiliar and relatively controlled self-presentations, requiring an increase in cognitive resources.

The results from these studies indicated that for extraverts and introverts alike, the self-presentation of congruent and familiar identities was successfully achieved in both the high- and low-cognitive-load conditions. Extraverts were also successful at self-presenting incongruent identities when they had sufficient cognitive resources available, that is, in the low-cognitive-load condition. However, extraverts were unable to successfully self-present incongruent and unfamiliar identities when they lacked the requisite cognitive resources, that is, in the high-cognitive-load condition. By comparison, an unexpected finding showed that introverts were successful at self-presenting incongruent and unfamiliar identities even when they lacked available cognitive resources. Pontari and Schlenker (2000) posited that the increased cognitive load interrupted introverts’ dysfunctional thoughts, which would have otherwise interfered with their capacity to engage effectively in controlled self-presentations. The additional mental tasks in the high-cognitive-load condition may have shifted introverts’ attention from negative self-ruminations to more dispassionate thoughts. This shift in attention may have allowed introverts to successfully enact a social performance that was relatively incongruent with their automatic pattern of self-presentational responses.

The Availability of Cognitive Resources during Self-Presentation and Its Effect on Reaction Times

A set of studies consistent with Pontari and Schlenker’s (2000) notion of self-presentations as congruent or incongruent with self-schema were carried out by Holden and colleagues ( 1992 , 2001 ). These studies focused on reaction times rather than self-presentational effectiveness to demonstrate automatic and controlled self-presentation processes. Participants were instructed to respond quickly to self-descriptive personality items in a manner that would make them appear either very well adjusted or not well adjusted. When participants made responses that were incongruent with a self-schema—conveying a favorable impression via socially undesirable items or an unfavorable impression via socially desirable items—their reaction times were slower. When they made responses that were congruent with a self-schema—conveying a favorable impression via socially desirable items or an unfavorable impression via socially undesirable items—their reaction times were faster.

These findings show that responding in a manner incongruent with a self-schema requires the availability of cognitive resources, whereas responding in a congruent manner consumes minimal cognitive resources and attention. The data also support the presence of a cognitive mechanism that is fast and efficient, and a cognitive override mechanism that is slower and intentional, which they suggest are consistent with the processes described in Paulhus’s (1993) automatic and controlled self-presentation model ( Holden, Wood, & Tomashewski, 2001 ). In Paulhus’s work, “automatic processes are those that are so well rehearsed that they are fast, oriented toward positive self-presentations, and operate without attention, whereas controlled processes are much slower and require increased attention” ( Holden et al., 2001 , p. 167).

The Availability of Cognitive Resources during Self-Presentations and Its Effect on Self-Descriptions

Other programs of research (e.g., Paulhus & Levitt, 1987 ) also posit that controlled self-presentations occur when attentional capacity is available, whereas automatic self-presentations emerge when attentional capacity is relatively limited. Controlled self-presentations are thought to involve conscious self-descriptions that are adjusted to fit situational demands with such efforts requiring available cognitive resources and attentional capacity. Automatic self-presentations, in contrast, are posited to involve nonconscious default responses that are characterized by the communication of overly positive self-descriptions. These efforts require minimal cognitive attention and resources, primarily because they consist of well-practiced and chronically activated self-descriptions ( Paulhus, 1993 ).

To examine these ideas, a series of studies were conducted in which participants provided self-descriptive ratings on positive, negative, or neutral traits while in a high- or low-cognitive-load condition ( Paulhus, 1993 ; Paulhus et al., 1989 ; Paulhus & Levitt, 1987 ). Results showed that participants in the high-cognitive-load condition endorsed more positive than negative traits. They were also significantly faster at both endorsing positive and denying negative traits when their resources and attention were focused on other tasks. Put differently, when cognitive attention was diverted, only a default set of positive self-descriptions was left available for automatic self-presentations. Paulhus (1993) concluded that increasing cognitive demands can trigger automatic self-presentations in which people are more likely and quicker to claim positive traits and deny negative ones.

In a similar fashion, cognitive capacity is also required for honest trait responding—it takes attentional resources to scan one’s memory for accurate responses. If cognitive demands are increased, attention is diverted and honest trait responding can be disrupted. But the subsequent responses are not random; they are systematically more positive and emerge from the positive automatic self. Evidence from a number of studies shows that participants instructed to engage in controlled self-presentations produced more positive self-descriptions in a high- compared to low-cognitive-load condition (e.g., Paulhus & Murphy, unpublished data ). These findings support the assertion that automatic self-presentations are activated when controlled self-presentations are disrupted by an increase in cognitive demands.

To examine this idea further, a second study experimentally created automatic self-presentation patterns and then tested whether these patterns reappeared under cognitive load ( Paulhus, Bruce, & Stoffer, 1990 ). To induce a new automatic-self, participants practiced communicating overly positive self-descriptions, negative self-descriptions, or honest self-descriptions by repeatedly responding to a set of 12 traits. Subsequently, participants were told to forget what they did during this practice phase and to instead respond honestly to the 12 traits (i.e., controlled self-presentation). During a first test, participants were given as much time as they wanted to respond, a low-cognitive-load condition, whereas in a second test they were told to answer as fast as possible, a high-cognitive-load condition. Results showed that the automatization effects that were created in the initial practice phase emerged in the high-cognitive-load condition but not in the low-cognitive-load condition. When controlled self-presentations were disrupted, automatic self-presentations appeared, as evidenced by the automatic self emerging only during the high-cognitive-load condition.

Another line of evidence also shows that people positively bias their descriptions of self-associated stimuli, and they do so without conscious awareness ( Koole, Dijksterhuis, & van Knippenberg, 2001 ). Theorists posit that early self-descriptions shape later self-descriptions by structuring self-relevant cognitions and behavior into working models, which can be nonconsciously activated ( Mikulincer, 1995 ). These models are conceptualized as an integral part of automatic self-presentations, typifying people’s most well-practiced and chronically activated self-descriptions ( Paulhus, 1993 ). When encountering self-associated stimuli, people’s positively biased self-descriptions can be automatically triggered and, as such, can be characterized as automatic self-presentations. If people lack available cognitive capacity, their self-descriptions of self-associated stimuli may reflect implicit and automatic efforts, whereas, if sufficient cognitive resources are available, self-descriptions may reflect more explicit and controlled efforts ( Koole et al., 2001 ).

These ideas were tested in two studies by examining the relationship between implicit self-positivity and explicit self-descriptions. Implicit self-positivity was measured by the name-letter bias ( Kitayama & Karasawa, 1997 ) and explicit self-description by participants’ self-ratings on positive, negative, or neutral trait words ( Paulhus & Levitt, 1987 ). With respect to the explicit measure, quickly delivered self-descriptions were characterized as automatic self-presentations, and slowly delivered self-descriptions were characterized as controlled self-presentations, primarily because automatic processing requires less time than controlled processing. It was expected and found that implicit self-positivity only matched the explicit self-descriptions when the trait self-ratings were quickly delivered but not when they were slowly delivered.

A second study mirrored the results of the first by manipulating the availability of cognitive resources rather than the delivery speed of explicit self-descriptions. Specifically, participants under a high cognitive load (vs. low cognitive load) displayed greater congruence between implicit and explicit self-descriptions. When cognitive resources were limited, it increased the self-positivity of explicit self-descriptions, in that the congruence between implicit and explicit self-descriptions only increased when controlled efforts were undermined, that is, in the high-cognitive-demand condition. But when participants were in a situation in which they possessed sufficient cognitive resources, their explicit and implicit self-descriptions did not match. When responding explicitly, participants presumably were aware of the self-presentation implications of responding in an overly positive manner and, as such, managed their responses accordingly. Their responses were far less positive when they were explicitly versus implicitly measured. In contrast, when participants lacked sufficient cognitive resources, they presumably were unable to consciously control the delivery of their explicit self-descriptions, which essentially then became automatic self-presentations. As result, their implicit and explicit self-descriptions were congruent in the high-cognitive-load condition; both showed positively biased self-descriptions, which is characteristic of automatic self-presentations.

Related studies also examined whether the automatic self-descriptions that underlie the self-positivity bias can be inhibited by consciously controlled efforts ( Koole et al., 2001 ). Here, participants were instructed to judge self-associated stimuli while focusing on either cognitive reasoning , which was thought to require more controlled efforts, or feeling , which was thought to require less controlled efforts. If greater preference for self-associated stimuli results from automatic self-presentation, a positive bias for such stimuli should increase when the focus is on feelings, an automatic response, compared to deliberate reasoning, a controlled response. In line with this reasoning, participants delivered more positively biased judgments for self-associated stimuli when they were focused on feelings rather than reasoning. This suggests that controlled efforts inhibit the emergence of automatic self-presentations. Participants also reported no awareness that they were displaying a positivity bias toward self-associated stimuli. In all, implicit self-positivity responses, based on overlearned self-descriptions, may be representative of automatic self-presentations.

The Availability of Self-Regulatory Resources during Self-Presentations

The first four sections focused on studies that essentially involved either low or high cognitive demands as a means to demonstrate, respectively, automatic or controlled self-presentations. We now turn to a set of studies that addressed the relationship between self-presentation and the consumption of self-regulatory resources ( Vohs, Baumeister, & Ciarocco, 2005 ). The logic underlying this relationship basically mimics the argument underscoring how the availability of cognitive resources impacts the degree to which self-presentations emerge via automatic or controlled efforts. When people engage in unfamiliar patterns of self-presentation, it requires increased self-regulatory efforts to override their habitual responses and to effortfully control their behavior. Carrying out “these effortful self-presentations drain[s]‌ more self-regulatory resources compared with presenting oneself in a standard, familiar, or habitual manner of self-presentation” ( Vohs et al., 2005 , p. 634). In four studies that examined this idea, participants were instructed to present themselves in a manner that was based either on familiar/habitual and less effortful patterns of self-presentations or on patterns that were unfamiliar/atypical, which called for more deliberate and thoughtful efforts.

The results across all four studies consistently demonstrated that engaging in habitual self-presentations demanded less regulatory efforts than carrying out an atypical or unfamiliar self-presentation, which required an increase in regulatory efforts, and subsequently depleted the self’s resources. As with cognitive demands, these findings suggest that automatic self-presentations emerge when the situation is perceived as more familiar and routine, and hence does not require exerting an increase in regulatory efforts. In contrast, more effortful and controlled self-presentations emerge when the situation calls for patterns of responding that are not typical or habitual, thus requiring more regulatory resources to be consumed. The results from these studies are consistent with the cognitive demand studies in the previous sections, again demonstrating that self-presentational efforts can assume different forms, and that conveying an image that is in conflict with one’s typical, habitual response patterns consumes greater regulatory resources than responses that follow one’s familiar self-presentational patterns. Automatic self-presentations require less regulatory resources than controlled self-presentations, which is theoretically consistent with the broad sentiment of the first four sections.

Cued Activation of Automatic Self-Presentation and Its Effect on Self-Description

For the most part, automatic self-presentations involve the conveyance of relatively favorable identity-images. Paulhus (1993) describes these efforts as “consisting of the individual’s most well-practiced, and hence, most chronically activated set of self-attributes,” which he posits are typically positive due to a lifetime of practice (p. 576). He argues that there are copious sources that underlie the widespread prevalence of the positivity that follows from a lifetime of practice. From childhood, people actively learn that they should provide more positively oriented self-descriptions and explanations for their social behavior. These ideas fit well with Schlenker’s (2003) description of background self-presentation agendas, which involve the construction of desired images of the self and are based on overlearned and habitual responses to social contingencies.

It is also important to note that although the majority of peoples’ automatic self-presentations are indeed characterized by positive self-representations, they are not necessarily restricted to just positive images. Certainly not all early life lessons and habits will reflect or result in only positive representations of the self. Some context cues can serve to trigger habit-molded patterns of behaviors that result in the conveyance of a less than favorable image of the self.

These automatic instances of less favorable images emerge from “people’s repertoire of relational schemas, or cognitive structures representing regularities in patterns of interpersonal relatedness involving a range of common interpersonal orientations: from expecting that another person will be consistently accepting, for example, to expecting that others will be evaluative or judgmental” ( Baldwin, 1992 , p. 209). Theorists propose that these relationships become internalized, in part, via the development of relation-oriented schemas. These schemas are thought to represent patterns of interpersonal behavior, consisting of interaction scripts including schemas for self and other as experienced within that interaction, which also include inference processes for communicating self-descriptions ( Baldwin, 1992 ). Researchers suggest, for example, that an individual can anticipate a negative evaluation because negative memories and knowledge structures have become activated, which influences how one anticipates and interprets a forthcoming or ongoing social interaction ( Baldwin & Main, 2001 ).

Theoretically any cue that has become linked with a particular interpersonal experience can trigger relational constructs and knowledge, and as such it can impact one’s current behavior ( Baldwin & Main, 2001 ). It is plausible that these cued activation procedures could impact automatic self-presentations, in that such efforts may involve more positive self-descriptions if the activated relational knowledge is associated with acceptance/favorability, and more negative self-descriptions if associated with rejection/unfavorability.

In a series of studies, researchers examined the idea that cued knowledge activation may differentially impact interpersonal behavior depending on the context of the activated relational schema. Although the direct intent of these studies was not focused on automatic self-presentations, the results, involving participants’ self-descriptions, can be construed as such ( Baldwin & Main, 2001 ). At the outset of these studies, participants underwent a conditioning procedure that surreptitiously paired expectations of acceptance and rejection with distinct aural tones ( Baldwin & Meunier, 1999 ). These conditioned tones were later used to nonconsciously activate the knowledge structures associated with acceptance and rejection. Specifically, during an interpersonal interaction one of the two tones from the conditioning procedure was repeatedly emitted from a computer terminal. The results indicated that participants communicated more positive self-descriptions in the acceptance compared to rejection condition and, conversely, more negative self-descriptions in the rejection versus acceptance condition. The conditioned tones to cue acceptance or rejection may have nonconsciously triggered automatic self-presentations, even to the degree that some of these efforts resulted in negative self-descriptions (see Swann, 1983 ).

In a similar fashion, other studies have examined the implicit motivational effects that significant others can have on automatic self-presentations (e.g., Shah, 2003 ). This research suggests that people’s self-representations incorporate the goals, values, and expectations that close others hold for them, and that the cued activation of these internal representations automatically influences people’s behavior via the other’s association to a variety of interpersonal goals ( Moretti & Higgins, 1999 ). The implicit effect of close others may extend to goal-directed behavior in which others influence people’s interpersonal behavior during ongoing social interactions. In other words, the implicit influence of significant others may serve to trigger automatic self-presentations.

To examine this idea, researchers covertly acquired the names of significant others, either an accepting or a critical other’s name ( Baldwin, 1994 ; Shah, 2003 ). These names were used at a later point to prime subliminally participants’ interpersonal goals. Following the priming manipulation, participants completed an ego-threatening task, after which they completed self-descriptive questionnaires. The results indicated that participant’s self-descriptions were influenced by the critical and accepting others’ name, even though detailed manipulation checks showed that participants were not consciously aware of name exposure. When a critical other’s name was primed, self-descriptions were more negative; when an accepting other’s name was primed, self-descriptions were more positive. These findings suggest that self-descriptions were nonconsciously influenced by the cued activation of relational schemas that were associated with the accepting or critical other. Subliminally reminding people, for example, of a negative, demanding or positive, friendly other may automatically trigger a be friendly or be aggressive goal, as well as the corresponding self-presentation behavior associated with the activated relational schema.

Consistent with the idea of cued activation, Tyler (2012) utilized priming procedures across a set of three studies to assess directly the automatic nature of self-presentational efforts. In the first two studies, participants were primed with words associated with impression-oriented people or with a set of neutral words; the second study also included a condition in which participants received explicit self-presentation instructions to present themselves favorably. In the first study, the self-presentation measure involved participants answering a series of self-descriptive questions put forth by the experimenter. With the second study, each participant engaged in an unscripted conversation with a confederate, which was videotaped and later coded for how favorable the participants described themselves. The results across both studies revealed that participants in the impression condition self-presented a more favorable image compared to participants in the neutral condition. The results from the second study also showed that participants’ self-presentations in the explicit condition mimicked the favorability of participants’ self-presentations in the impression prime condition. Put differently, participants’ automatic self-presentations were very similar to their efforts when they were explicitly instructed to self-present a favorable persona. The third study was grounded on the idea that the participating audience one is interacting with might serve as a nonconscious self-presentation cue. Here, participants were primed with words associated with friends or strangers. Following the priming procedure, participants were instructed to write a self-description, which was later coded with regard to how favorable participants described themselves. Analysis in the friend prime condition showed that participants self-presented a more modest image, whereas in the stranger prime condition participants self-presented a more self-enhancing image. Taken together, the findings across these studies provide compelling support for the proposition that people’s self-presentations can be primed by environmental cues outside of their conscious awareness.

Critical Assessment and Discussion

The driving logic underlying the proposal of an automatic self-presentational process is the same across all review sections, allowing for a straightforward interpretation of the findings. Recall that the goal of the current chapter is focused on determining if automatic self-presentations emerge of their own accord, triggered outside of conscious awareness by context cues in the absence of direct self-presentational instructions.

Automatic Self-Presentations and Context Cues

According to a number of influential models (e.g., Leary & Kowalski, 1990 ; Paulhus, 1993 ; Schlenker, 1985 , 2003 ), automatic self-presentations are predicated on habitual and routine response patterns that include scripts, overlearned responses, and well-practiced sets of self-attributes. For instance, Paulhus (1993) suggests “the default self-presentation, the automatic self, has it origins in a lifetime of self-presentation practice” (p. 580). Even more directly, Schlenker ( 1985 , 2003 ) posits:

Automatic self-presentations reflect modulated units of action that eventually “settle in” to become habits. These habitual patterns of behavior form self-presentation scripts that are triggered automatically by context cues and guide action unthinkingly, in relevant situations. Such scripts provide a rich store of knowledge and experience (i.e., relational knowledge), which can be automatically accessed to quickly and effectively communicate desired identity-images. When a script is triggered consciously or unconsciously by context cues, it provides a definition of the situation being encountered, a set of expectations about events, and a set of operations for thoughts and behaviors in the situation. (pp. 76, 495)

A common thread among these models underscores the notion that habitual self-presentation patterns are triggered by context cues and people are not consciously aware that their efforts are influenced by such cues. Although the exact nature of context cues varies from occasion to occasion, in general, “the situation or audience itself cues associated information about the self, social roles, and social expectations in memory and makes salient the context-contingencies between particular self-presentations and relevant outcomes” ( Schlenker, 1986 , p. 35). This description accentuates the context-contingent nature of the cues that can trigger automatic self-presentations and, as noted earlier, has a straightforward connection with Wood and Neal’s (2007) habit model, in that habits are characterized as learned dispositions to repeat past responses and are activated by context cues. In summary, theorists’ characterization of automatic self-presentations as habit responses, automatically triggered by context cues, unfolds in much the same fashion as Wood and Neal describe habit performances.

Describing automatic self-presentations as triggered by context cues is also consistent with the characterization of automatic processes as involuntary, such that people’s behavior is activated by prompts in the social environment ( Bargh, 1996 ). Schlenker and Pontari (2000) also argue that background self-presentations are guided by an intended, goal-dependent automatic process, characterized as “an autonomous process requiring the intention that it occur, and thus awareness that it is occurring, but no conscious guidance once put into operation” ( Bargh, 1996 , p. 174). Self-presentational efforts that emerge via an intended, goal-dependent automatic process comprise a well-learned, sequential set of actions that were previously associated with goal accomplishment. People are not consciously aware that context cues influence their social behavior; however, the goal-directed activity of structuring and maintaining a desired identity is nonetheless occurring. In summary, theorists contend that automatic self-presentations are activated nonconsciously by cues in the social situation and are founded on overlearned responses to behavioral-outcome contingencies.

Consistent with self-presentation theories and with support from more general models of habit responding, we argue that cues in the social environment, in and of themselves, are a necessary imperative and represent the fundamental cornerstone with which to establish the validity of an automatic self-presentation process. Although such a process has strong logical and theoretical footing, without corroborating evidence for context cuing, the process would nonetheless remain nothing but a conceptual proposition. If we fail to demonstrate empirically a context-contingent pathway for the nonconscious activation of automatic self-presentations, there is no other logical or clear mechanism with which to build and support an evidentiary foundation for such a process. As a result, we would necessarily be required to accept the notion outlined at the outset of this chapter: that the vast majority of self-presentations involve controlled and deliberate efforts, and as such only emerge during very specific sets of narrowly defined occasions. Without clear and sustaining evidence demonstrating that cues in the social environment trigger automatic self-presentations, identifying a mechanistic pathway for an automatic self-presentational process would be untenable. This leads directly to the key question underpinning our goal for this chapter: Do automatic self-presentations emerge of their own accord, triggered outside of conscious awareness by context cues in the absence of explicit self-presentation instructions? This issue relates to specific features of automatic processes in which self-presentations are thought to be involuntary responses initiated outside of conscious awareness by prompts in the social environment.

To shed light on this question, we look to the studies outlined in the research section. Although the evidence in support is quite limited, the findings suggest that automatic self-presentations are likely to emerge during situations involving familiar and routine patterns of responding, which require minimal cognitive and regulatory resources. Presenting oneself in accord with habitual response patterns required less effort, was delivered with greater speed, and was more likely to involve a favorable presentation of self. For instance, the studies that focused on recall measures demonstrate that automatic self-presentational efforts represent habitual patterns of responding that can be triggered automatically by features of the audience and situation ( Schlenker, 2003 ). To go against habitual patterns requires foregoing the benefits of automaticity, with the resulting use of controlled self-presentations then operating like cognitive load. Faced with the need to make conscious self-presentation decisions, people are then left with diminished cognitive resources, for example, to encode and recall information. The studies addressing the effect of cognitive resources on self-presentational effectiveness also illustrate that habitual self-presentations transpire with minimal resource demands, and they can unfold effectively even if an individual is faced with other cognitively demanding activities. Engaging in controlled self-presentations, however, requires increased cognitive resources and, as such, suffers if an individual is simultaneously engaged in other efforts that diminish his or her resources. These findings are consistent with Schlenker and Pontari’s (2000) notion of foreground self-presentations, which require available cognitive resources, and background self-presentations, which require minimal resources, primarily because background efforts are founded on repeatedly used scripts and over time have emerged as habitual aspects of a person’s personality and identity. In all, participants prompted to self-present in a typical or familiar manner displayed cognitive effects consistent with an automatic process.

It is important, however, to emphasize that the design of most of the studies involved the efficiency feature of automatic processes, which focused on the influence that available cognitive resources have on self-presentations. Such evidence only demonstrates that automatic self-presentational behavior may occur in the absence of controlled efforts; that is, once consciously activated, self-presentations may unfold in an autonomous manner. For the most part, participants were aware of the goal conditions, in that they received explicit instructions to engage in a specific type of self-presentation, typically one that was either congruent or incongruent with what would be expected in that particular situation, and with the implication that under certain conditions these different self-presentations would consume more or less cognitive resources. These research designs did not just rely on the presence of context cues to nonconsciously trigger automatic self-presentations, and because participants were explicitly given instructions to self-present in a particular manner, it is impossible to tease apart any effects being due to self-presentation instructions or to context cues. We argue that the majority of research cannot unequivocally confirm an automatic process; the data do not allow for definitive conclusions in that we cannot determine whether self-presentations were triggered outside of conscious awareness by context cues in the absence of explicit self-presentation instructions.

However, the few studies outlined in the cued activation section may offer plausible evidence supporting the proposition that self-presentation involves an automatic cognitive mechanism in which people’s efforts are nonconsciously triggered by context cues. Together, these studies demonstrate that cued knowledge activation, the implicit influence of significant others, and the subliminal priming of self-presentation cues can influence people’s self-presentational efforts. For instance, as a context cue, the conditioned aural tones triggered self-presentations outside of conscious awareness, in that positive or negative self-descriptions emerged, respectively, when participants were surreptitiously cued with a tone that had been previously paired with either acceptance or rejection ( Baldwin & Meunier, 1999 ). Results from Shah (2003) also showed that participants’ self-descriptions were more negative when primed with a critical other’s name and more positive when primed with an accepting others’ name. He proffered that this effect occurred because the self-descriptions were nonconsciously influenced by the cued activation of relational schemas, which had become cognitively and emotionally linked over time to an accepting or critical other. In the same vein, Tyler’s (2012) data revealed that participants primed with an impression word self-presented a more favorable persona, which not incidentally mimicked self-presentations in an explicit self-presentation control condition. Tyler’s findings, which are consistent with Tice et al. (1995) , also showed that participants primed with friend-oriented words self-presented a more modest image, whereas those primed with stranger-oriented words conveyed a more self-enhancing image.

The findings outlined in the cued activation section are theoretically consistent with the concept of a background self-presentation agenda in which an individual’s behavior is automatically guided based on repeatedly used scripts that have been successful in the past. The behaviors that ensue comprise patterns of action that are habit-formed and emerge without conscious awareness. In a background mode, impression-relevant cues prompt or activate self-presentations, although people are not consciously aware that their efforts are, in part, fashioned by the social environment and their activated self-presentation scripts ( Schlenker & Pontari, 2000 ). These automatic self-presentations typically represent positive characterizations of the self, but as the studies in the final review section illustrate, they can also involve more negatively oriented self-descriptions.

Although we tender our comments with a healthy degree of caution, we are optimistic that the results utilizing very subtle or subliminally primed context cues offer the strongest, albeit limited evidence in support of the proposition that self-presentations can be activated by environmental cues outside of conscious awareness. What these few studies seriously lack, however, is an examination of the effect during an actual ongoing social interaction.

Future work is sorely needed to not only conceptually replicate the cued context and priming effects but also to move the examination of these effects into more real-life types of situations ( Leary et al., 2011 ). To do so will require the use of creative designs to offset the fact that in real-life settings the context cues may often exist within the boundaries of people’s conscious awareness. People are cognizant of an audience, for instance, and as such, their self-presentations may be guided by an intended, but goal-dependent, automatic process, which is consistent with background self-presentations as proposed in the self-identification theory.

We also emphasize that any research designs utilizing context cues or primes to trigger automatic self-presentations need to take particular care to ensure that the cues/primes are not transparent, and that their influence occurs, indeed via a nonconscious mechanism. Clarifying the mechanism underlying automatic self-presentation is of key import, in part, because research designs may unintentionally neglect cues in the experimental setting that nonconsciously trigger or motivate self-presentational behavior, which of course, would inadvertently affect the subsequent results. This concern has historical precedent; during the 1970s, a significant amount of self-presentation research was aimed at providing alternatives to the currently held explanations for a variety of interpersonal phenomena. Results from numerous studies, spanning wide domains within social psychology, provided evidence demonstrating that people’s interpersonal behavior (e.g., helping behavior, conformity, cognitive dissonance, voting behavior) was influenced by their desire that others view them in a particular fashion (e.g., Tedeschi, Schlenker, & Bonoma, 1971 ; see Leary, 1995 ). For the most part, the self-presentation perspective argued, “that the people we use as the sources of behavioral data are active, anticipatory, problem-solving, role-playing, and impression-managing beings ( Page, 1981 , p. 59; see Adair, 1973 ). Page further argued that experimental subjects “may feel very much as if they are on stage ( Goffman, 1959 , ), and they may control and calculate their own behavior so as not to receive what in their own eyes would be a negative evaluation of their performance” (p. 60). At the time, these contentions were directly aimed at participants’ consciously, controlled self-presentational efforts and were viewed by traditional social psychology as methodological artifacts that could be ameliorated (see Kruglanski, 1975 ). The degree to which these issues have actually been remedied is well beyond the scope of the current chapter. If theorists’ proposition is correct, however, and automatic self-presentations are a ubiquitous feature of people’s daily life, it would behoove researchers to assiduously examine their experimental design and protocols to determine if potential cues in the laboratory setting are unintentionally triggering participants’ automatic self-presentational efforts. If this were the case, the concerns are obvious and meaningful, in that such cued behavior would severely confound any subsequent results and data interpretation.

An essential ingredient of the research that directly examines automatic self-presentations is the development of tightly designed control or comparison conditions; at the least, such conditions must demonstrate that the absence of a particular cue leads to less self-presentational efforts compared to the presence of the cue. Such research designs must also keep potential self-presentational motivations, for example, goal importance and audience status, constant across all experimental conditions, while manipulating the context-cued condition. If the design fails to adequately do so, it is nearly impossible to determine if participants’ self-presentation efforts are unfolding in a background mode or whether other motivational factors have shifted participants’ efforts to the foreground. It is important to evaluate implicit self-presentation cues, not only for their effectiveness at triggering automatic self-presentations, but also to ensure that they are able to do so in a nonconscious manner.

Integrating elements from a number of the reviewed studies may also prove useful in examining automatic self-presentations, particularly during the course of an ongoing interpersonal interaction. In a number of studies, various self-presentations were characterized as comprising or inducing different levels of cognitive demand, which combined with information processing measures, enabled researchers to infer automatic self-presentations. Much of the evidence indicated that when cognitive attention was diverted only a default set of positive self-descriptions remained available for automatic self-presentations. By turning the notion around that different self-presentations induce high or low cognitive load, one could predict that high- or low-cognitive-load circumstances would lead to automatic or controlled self-presentations, respectively. It would be fruitful to manipulate the level of cognitive demand during an ongoing interpersonal interaction in the absence of any explicit self-presentation instructions, with the expectation that automatic self-presentations (i.e., default set of positive self-descriptions) should emerge in the high- compared to low-cognitive-load condition. Rather than assess self-ratings or recall, it would also be more externally valid and informative to measure and/or code people’s self-descriptions or behaviors.

Although Pontari and Schlenker’s extravert-introvert study (2000) involved explicit self-presentation instructions, it followed a design similar to the one proposed herein; they directly manipulated cognitive demands during an interaction. Automatic self-presentations were presumed to have occurred under conditions in which participants were instructed to engage in congruent self-presentations in both the high- and low-cognitive-load conditions. One can readily imagine adding another condition in which participants under both cognitive load conditions received no explicit self-presentation instructions. The results from such a condition should mirror the data from the presumed automatic self-presentation condition because participants in either cognitive load condition who received no self-presentation instructions would have no particular reason or motivation to behave in a manner other than the one they are most familiar with—extraverts would act extraverted and introverts would act introverted. If this no-instruction condition replicated the automatic self-presentation condition, it would provide additional support for an automatic component to the self-presentation process. It would also provide much needed evidence to demonstrate that automatic self-presentations emerge spontaneously during interpersonal interactions, in the absence of any direct instructional prompts.

At the start of this chapter, we argued that characterizing self-presentation in terms that predominantly evoke controlled and strategic efforts is not only theoretically challenging but also empirically problematic. It serves to foster an exclusionary research perspective, severely limiting research attention, leading to a paucity of work examining automatic self-presentations. Following a conceptual approach that positions self-presentation as occurring primarily in limited situations has fundamentally shaped the fabric of most self-presentation research designs, in that participants are often explicitly provided with self-presentation instructions, essentially bypassing the issue of context cuing.

Although the scarcity of empirical work became apparent in the evidence sections, the studies that are available offer some promising avenues for future work. Pontari and Schlenker’s (2000) extravert-introvert studies suggest an empirical direction and offer results to build and expand upon. The cued activation and priming studies not only provide the strongest evidence to date for automatic self-presentations, but they also provide a solid empirical foundation with which to design additional work. Nonetheless, the evidence remains very limited, underscoring a palpable and substantive need for further research. Considerable work remains to be done in order to determine empirically whether self-presentations are actually triggered nonconsciously by cues in the social environment, in that people are unaware of the initiation, flow, or impact of their self-presentational efforts.

Aarts, H. , & Dijksterhuis, A. ( 2000 ). Habits as knowledge structures: Automaticity in goal directed behavior.   Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 78 , 53–63.

Google Scholar

Adair, J. G. ( 1973 ). The human subject: The social psychology of the psychological experiment. Boston: Little Brown.

Google Preview

Back, M. D. , Stopfer, J. M. , Vazire, S. , Gaddis, S. , Schmukle, S. C. , Egloff, B. , & Gosling, S. D. ( 2010 ). Facebook profiles reflect actual personality not self-idealization.   Psychological Science , 21 , 372–374.

Baldwin, M. ( 1992 ). Relational schemas and the processing of social information.   Psychological Bulletin , 112 , 461–484.

Baldwin, M. ( 1994 ). Primed relational schemas as a source of self-evaluative reactions.   Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology , 13 , 380–403.

Baldwin, M. W. , & Main, K. J. ( 2001 ). Social anxiety and the cued activation of relational knowledge.   Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin , 27 , 1637–1647.

Baldwin, M. , & Meunier, J. ( 1999 ). The cued activation of attachment relational schemas.   Social Cognition , 17 , 209–227.

Bargh, J. A. ( 1996 ). Automaticity in social psychology. In E. T. Higgins & A. W. Kruglanski (Eds.), Social psychology: Handbook of basic principles (pp. 169–183). New York: Guilford Press.

Baumeister, R. F. ( 1982 ). Self-esteem, self-presentation, and future interaction: A dilemma of reputation.   Journal of Personality , 50 , 29–45.

Baumeister, R. F. , Hutton, D. G. , & Tice, D. M. ( 1989 ). Cognitive processes during deliberate self-presentation: How self-presenters alter and misinterpret the behavior of their interaction partners.   Journal of Experimental Social Psychology , 25 , 59–78.

Baumeister, R. F. , & Jones, E. E. ( 1978 ). When self-presentation is constrained by the target’s knowledge: Consistency and compensation.   Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 36 , 608–618.

Custers, R. , & Aarts, H. ( 2005 ). Positive affect as implicit motivator: On nonconscious operation of behavioral goals.   Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 89 , 129–142.

DePaulo, B. M. ( 1992 ). Nonverbal behavior and self-presentation.   Psychological Bulletin , 111 , 203–243.

Goffman, E. ( 1959 ). The presentation of self in everyday life . New York: Doubleday Books.

Hogan R. ( 1983 ). A socioanalytic theory of personality. In Nebraska Symposium on Motivation (Vol. 30 , pp. 55–89). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Holden, R. R. , Kroner, D. G. , Fekken, G. C , & Popham, S. M. ( 1992 ). A model of personality test item response dissimulation.   Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 63 , 272–279.

Holden, R. R. , Wood, L. L , & Tomashewski L. ( 2001 ). Do response time limitations counteract the effect of faking on personality inventory validity?   Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 81 , 160–169.

Jones, E. E. , & Wortman, C. ( 1973 ). Ingratiation: An attributional approach . Morristown, NJ: General Learning Press.

Kitayama, S. , & Karasawa, M. ( 1997 ). Implicit self-esteem in Japan: Name letters and birthday numbers.   Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin , 23 , 736–742.

Koole, S. L. , Dijksterhuis, A. , & van Knippenberg, A. ( 2001 ). What’s in a name: Implicit self-esteem and the automatic self.   Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 80 , 669–685.

Kruglanski , ( 1975 ). The human subject in the psychological experiment: Fact and artifact. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 8 , pp. 101–147). New York: Academic Press.

Leary, M. R. ( 1995 ). Self-presentation: Impression management and interpersonal behavior . Boulder, CO: Westview.

Leary, M. R. , & Allen, A. ( 2011 ). Self-presentational persona: Simultaneous management of multiple impressions.   Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 101 , 1033–1049.

Leary, M. R. , Allen, A. , & Terry, M. L. ( 2011 ). Managing social images in naturalistic versus laboratory settings: Implications for understanding and studying self-presentation. European Journal of Social Psychology , 41 , 411–421.

Leary, M. R. , & Kowalski, R. M. ( 1990 ). Impression management: A literature review and two-component model.   Psychological Bulletin , 107 , 34–47.

Mikulincer, M. ( 1995 ). Attachment style and the mental representation of the self.   Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 69 , 1203–1215.

Moretti, M. M. , & Higgins, E. T. ( 1999 ). Own versus other standpoints in self-regulation: Developmental antecedents and functional consequences.   Review of General Psychology , 3 , 188–223.

Paulhus, D. L. ( 1993 ). Bypassing the will: The automatization of affirmations. In D. M. Wegner & J. W. Pennebaker (Eds.), Handbook of mental control (pp. 573–587). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Paulhus, D. L. , Bruce, N. , & Stoffer, E. (1990, August). Automatizing self-descriptions . Paper presented at the American Psychological Association meeting, Boston, MA.

Paulhus, D. L. , Graf, P. , & Van Selst, M. ( 1989 ). Attentional load increases the positivity of self-presentation.   Social Cognition , 7 , 389–400.

Paulhus, D. L. , & Levitt, K. ( 1987 ). Desirable responding triggered by affect: Automatic egotism?   Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 52 , 245–259.

Page, M. P. ( 1981 ). Demand compliance in laboratory experiments. In J. T. Tedeschi (Ed.), Impression management theory and social psychological research (pp. 57–82). New York: Academic Press.

Pontari, B. A. , & Schlenker, B. R. ( 2000 ). The influence of cognitive load on self-presentation: Can cognitive busyness help as well as harm social performance?   Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 78 , 1092–1108.

Schlenker, B. R. ( 1980 ). Impression management. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Schlenker, B. R. ( 1985 ). Identity and self-identification. In B. R. Schlenker (Ed.), The self and social life (pp. 65–99). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Schlenker, B. R. ( 1986 ). Self-identification: Toward an integration of the private and public self. In R. Baumeister (Ed.), Public self and private self (pp. 21–62). New York: Springer-Verlag.

Schlenker, B. R. ( 2003 ). Self-presentation. In M. R. Leary & J. P. Tangney (Eds.), Handbook of self and identity (pp. 492–518). New York: Guilford Press.

Schlenker, B. R. , Britt, T. W. , & Pennington, J. W. ( 1996 ). Impression regulation and management: A theory of self-identification. In R. M. Sorrentino & E. T. Higgins (Eds.), Handbook of motivation and cognition: The interpersonal context (pp. 118–147). New York: Guilford Press.

Schlenker, B. R. , Britt, T. W. , Pennington, J. W. , Murphy, R. , & Doherty, K. J. ( 1994 ). The triangle model of responsibility.   Psychological Review , 101 , 632–652.

Schlenker, B. R. , & Pontari, B. A. ( 2000 ). The strategic control of information: Impression management and self-presentation in daily life. In A. Tesser & R. B. Felson (Eds.), Psychological perspectives on self and identity (pp. 199–232). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Shah, J. ( 2003 ). Automatic for the people: How representations of significant others implicitly affect goal pursuit.   Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 84 , 661–681.

Swann, W. B., Jr . ( 1983 ). Self-verification: Bringing social reality into harmony with the self. In J. Suls & A. G. Greenwald (Eds.), Psychological perspectives on the self (pp. 33–66). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Tedeschi, J. T. , Schlenker, B. R. , & Bonoma, T. V. ( 1971 ). Cognitive dissonance: Private ratiocination or public spectacle?   American Psychologist , 26 , 685–695.

Tice, D. M. , Butler, J. L. , Muraven, M. B. , & Stillwell, A. M. ( 1995 ). When modesty prevails: Differential favorability of self-presentation to friends and strangers.   Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 69 , 1120–1138.

Tyler, J. M. ( 2012 ). Triggering self-presentation efforts outside of people’s conscious awareness.   Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin , 38 , 619–627.

Verplanken, B. , & Aarts, H. ( 1999 ). Habit, attitude, and planned behaviour: Is habit an empty construct or an interesting case of goal-directed automaticity? European Review of Social Psychology , 10 , 101–134.

Vohs, K. D. , Baumeister, R. F. , & Ciarocco, N. J. ( 2005 ). Self-regulation and self-presentation: Regulatory resource depletion impairs impression management and effortful self-presentation depletes regulatory resources.   Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 88 , 632–657.

Wilson, R. E. , Gosling, S. D. , & Graham, L. T. ( 2012 ). A review of Facebook research in the social sciences.   Perspectives on Psychological Science , 7 , 203–220.

Wood, W. , & Neal, D. T. ( 2007 ). A new look at habits and the habit–goal interface.   Psychological Review, 114, 843–863.

  • About Oxford Academic
  • Publish journals with us
  • University press partners
  • What we publish
  • New features  
  • Open access
  • Institutional account management
  • Rights and permissions
  • Get help with access
  • Accessibility
  • Advertising
  • Media enquiries
  • Oxford University Press
  • Oxford Languages
  • University of Oxford

Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide

  • Copyright © 2024 Oxford University Press
  • Cookie settings
  • Cookie policy
  • Privacy policy
  • Legal notice

This Feature Is Available To Subscribers Only

Sign In or Create an Account

This PDF is available to Subscribers Only

For full access to this pdf, sign in to an existing account, or purchase an annual subscription.

Home

Search form

You are here.

self presentation

Self-Presentation: Our Sense of Self Is Influenced by the Audiences We Have

self presentation

It is interesting to note that each of the social influences on our sense of self that we have discussed can be harnessed as a way of protecting our self-esteem. The final influence we will explore can also be used strategically to elevate not only our own esteem, but the esteem we have in the eyes of others. Positive self-esteem occurs not only when we do well in our own eyes but also when we feel that we are positively perceived by the other people we care about.

Because it is so important to be seen as competent and productive members of society, people naturally attempt to present themselves to others in a positive light. We attempt to convince others that we are good and worthy people by appearing attractive, strong, intelligent, and likable and by saying positive things to others (Jones & Pittman, 1982; Schlenker, 2003). The tendency to present a positive self-image to others, with the goal of increasing our social status , is known as self-presentation , and it is a basic and natural part of everyday life.

A big question in relation to self-presentation is the extent to which it is an honest versus more strategic, potentially dishonest enterprise. The sociologist Erving Goffman (1959) developed an influential theory of self-presentation and described it as a mainly honest process, where people need to present the parts of themselves required by the social role that they are playing in a given situation. If everyone plays their part according to accepted social scripts and conventions, then the social situation will run smoothly and the participants will avoid embarrassment. Seen in this way, self-presentation is a transparent process, where we are trying to play the part required of us, and we trust that others are doing the same. Other theorists, though, have viewed self-presentation as a more strategic endeavor, which may involve not always portraying ourselves in genuine ways (e.g., Jones & Pittman, 1982). As is often the case with two seemingly opposing perspectives, it is quite likely that both are true in certain situations, depending on the social goals of the actors.

Different self-presentation strategies may be used to create different emotions in other people, and the use of these strategies may be evolutionarily selected because they are successful (Toma, Hancock, & Ellison, 2008). Edward Jones and Thane Pittman (1982) described five self-presentation strategies, each of which is expected to create a resulting emotion in the other person:

  • The goal of ingratiation is to create liking by using flattery or charm.
  • The goal of intimidation is to create fear by showing that you can be aggressive.
  • The goal of exemplification is to create guilt by showing that you are a better person than the other.
  • The goal of supplication is to create pity by indicating to others that you are helpless and needy.
  • The goal of self-promotion is to create respect by persuading others that you are competent.

No matter who is using it, self-presentation can easily be overdone, and when it is, it backfires. People who overuse the ingratiation technique and who are seen as obviously and strategically trying to get others to like them are often disliked because of this. Have you ever had a slick salesperson obviously try to ingratiate him- or herself with you just so you will buy a particular product, and you end up not liking the person and making a hasty retreat from the premises? People who overuse the exemplification or self-promotion strategies by boasting or bragging, particularly if that boasting does not appear to reflect their true characteristics, may end up being perceived as arrogant and even self-deluded (Wosinska, Dabul, Whetstone-Dion, & Cialdini, 1996). Using intimidation can also often backfire; acting more modestly may be more effective. Again, the point is clear: we may want to self-promote with the goal of getting others to like us, but we must also be careful to consider the point of view of the other person. Being aware of these strategies is not only useful for better understanding how to use them responsibly ourselves, it can also help us to understand that other people’s behaviors may often reflect their self-presentational concerns. This can, in turn, facilitate better empathy for others, particularly when they are exhibiting challenging behaviors (Friedlander & Schwartz, 1985). For instance, perhaps someone’s verbally aggressive behavior toward you is more about that person being afraid rather than about his or her desire to do you harm.

Now that we have explored some of the commonly used self-presentation tactics, let’s look at how they manifest in specific social behaviors. One concrete way to self-promote is to display our positive physical characteristics. A reason that many of us spend money on improving our physical appearance is the desire to look good to others so that they will like us. We can also earn status by collecting expensive possessions such as fancy cars and big houses and by trying to associate with high-status others. Additionally, we may attempt to dominate or intimidate others in social interactions. People who talk more and louder and those who initiate more social interactions are afforded higher status. A businessman who greets others with a strong handshake and a smile, and people who speak out strongly for their opinions in group discussions may be attempting to do so as well. In some cases, people may even resort to aggressive behavior, such as bullying, in attempts to improve their status (Baumeister, Smart, & Boden, 1996).

Self-promotion can also be pursued in our online social behaviors. For example, a study in Taiwan conducted by Wang and Stefanone (2013) used survey methodology to investigate the relationship between personality traits, self-presentation and the use of check-ins on Facebook. Interestingly, narcissism was found to predict scores on a measure of exhibitionistic, self-promoting use of Facebook check-ins, which included items like “I check in so people know that I am with friends,” and “I expect friends to like or leave comments on my check-in status on Facebook.”

Other studies have also found associations between narcissistic traits and self-promotional activity on Facebook. Mehdizadeh (2010), for example, found that narcissistic personality scores were positively correlated with the amount of daily logins on Facebook and the duration of each login. Furthermore, narcissistic traits were related to increased use of self-promotional material in the main photo, view photos, status updates, and notes sections of people’s Facebook pages.

Analysis of the content and language used in Facebook postings has also revealed that they are sometimes used by individuals to self-promote. Bazarova, Taft, Choi, and Cosley (2013) explored self-presentation through language styles used in status updates, wall posts, and private messages from 79 participants. The use of positive emotion words was correlated with self-reported self-presentation concern in status updates. This is consistent with the idea that people share positive experiences with Facebook friends partly as a self-enhancement strategy.

Online self-presentation doesn’t seem to be limited to Facebook usage. There is also evidence that self-promotional concerns are often a part of blogging behaviors, too. Mazur and Kozarian (2010), for example, analyzed the content of adolescents’ blog entries and concluded that a careful concern for self-presentation was more central to their blogging behavior than direct interaction with others. This often seems to apply to micro-blogging sites like Twitter. Marwick and Boyd (2011) found that self-presentational strategies were a consistent part of celebrity tweeting, often deployed by celebrities to maintain their popularity and image.

You might not be surprised to hear that men and women use different approaches to self-presentation. Men are more likely to present themselves in an assertive way, by speaking and interrupting others, by visually focusing on the other person when they are speaking, and by leaning their bodies into the conversation. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to be modest; they tend to create status by laughing and smiling, and by reacting more positively to the statements of others (Dovidio, Brown, Heltman, Ellyson, & Keation, 1988).

These gender differences are probably in large part socially determined as a result of the different reinforcements that men and women receive for using particular self-presentational strategies. For example, self-promoting by speaking out and acting assertively can be more effective for men than it is for women, in part because cross-culturally consistent stereotypes tend to depict assertiveness as more desirable in men than in women. These stereotypes can have very important consequences in the real world. For instance, one of the reasons for the “glass ceiling” existing in some occupations (where women experience discrimination in reaching top positions in organizations) may be attributable to the more negative reactions that their assertive behaviors, necessary for career advancement, receive than those of their male colleagues (Eagly & Carli, 2007).

There are also some cultural differences in the extent to which people use self-presentation strategies in social contexts. For instance, when considering job interviews, Konig, Haftseinsson, Jansen, & Stadelmann (2011) found that individuals from Iceland and Switzerland used less self-presentational behavior than people from the United States. Differences in self-presentation have also been found in job interviews involving individuals from Ghana, Turkey, Norway, and Germany, with the former two groups showing higher impression management scores than the latter two (Bye et al., 2011).

So far we have been talking about self-presentation as it operates in particular situations in the short-term. However, we also engage in longer-term self-presentational projects, where we seek to build particular reputations with particular audiences. Emler & Reicher (1995) describe the unique capacity humans have to know one another by repute and argue that, accordingly, we are often engaged in a process of reputation management , which is a form of long-term self-presentation, where individuals seek to build and sustain specific reputations with important audiences . According to this perspective, our behaviors in current social situations may not only be to serve our self-presentational goals in that moment, but also be based on a consideration of their longer-term repercussions for our reputations. As many politicians, for example, know only too well, a poor decision from their past can come back to haunt them when their reputation is being assessed during a campaign.

The concept of reputation management can be used to help explain a wide variety of social and antisocial behaviors, including corporate branding (Smith, Smith, & Wang, 2010), sociomoral debate (Emler, Tarry, & St. James, 2007), and teenage criminal activity (Lopez-Romero & Romero, 2011). In the last example, it is argued that a lot of teenage antisocial behavior results from a desire to build a reputation for toughness and rebelliousness with like-minded peer audiences (Emler & Reicher, 1995). Similarly, antisocial and self-destructive online actions, like people posting to Facebook their involvement in illegal acts during riots, or individuals engaging in life-threatening activities in Internet crazes like Neknominate, may make more sense if they are considered partly as stemming from a desire to project a particular reputation to specific audiences. Perhaps the perceived social kudos from doing these things outweighs the obvious personal risks in the individuals’ minds at the time.

People often project distinct reputations to different social audiences. For example, adolescents who engage in antisocial activity to build reputations for rebelliousness among their peers will often seek to construct very different reputations when their parents are the audience (Emler & Reicher, 1995). The desire to compartmentalize our reputations and audiences can even spill over into our online behaviors. Wiederhold (2012) found that, with some adolescents’ Facebook friends numbering in the hundreds or thousands, increasing numbers are moving to Twitter in order to reach a more selective audience. One critical trigger for this has been that their parents are now often friends with them on Facebook, creating a need for young people to find a new space where they can build reputations that may not always be parent-friendly (Wiederhold, 2012).

Although the desire to present the self favorably is a natural part of everyday life, both person and situation factors influence the extent to which we do it. For one, we are more likely to self-present in some situations than in others. When we are applying for a job or meeting with others whom we need to impress, we naturally become more attuned to the social aspects of the self, and our self-presentation increases.

There are also individual differences. Some people are naturally better at self-presentation—they enjoy doing it and are good at it—whereas others find self-presentation less desirable or more difficult. An important individual-difference variable known as self-monitoring has been shown in many studies to have a major impact on self-presentation. Self-monitoring refers to the tendency to be both motivated and capable of regulating our behavior to meet the demands of social situations (Gangestad & Snyder, 2000). High self-monitors are particularly good at reading the emotions of others and therefore are better at fitting into social situations—they agree with statements such as “In different situations and with different people, I often act like very different persons,” and “I guess I put on a show to impress or entertain people.” Low self-monitors, on the other hand, generally act on their own attitudes, even when the social situation suggests that they should behave otherwise. Low self-monitors are more likely to agree with statements such as “At parties and social gatherings, I do not attempt to do or say things that others will like,” and “I can only argue for ideas that I already believe.” In short, high self-monitors use self-presentation to try to get other people to like them by behaving in ways that the others find desirable, whereas low self-monitors tend to follow their internal convictions more than the demands of the social situation.

In one experiment that showed the importance of self-monitoring, Cheng and Chartrand (2003) had college students interact individually with another student (actually an experimental confederate) whom they thought they would be working with on an upcoming task. While they were interacting, the confederate subtly touched her own face several times, and the researchers recorded the extent to which the student participant mimicked the confederate by also touching his or her own face.

The situational variable was the status of the confederate. Before the meeting began, and according to random assignment to conditions, the students were told either that they would be the leader and that the other person would be the worker on the upcoming task, or vice versa. The person variable was self-monitoring, and each participant was classified as either high or low on self-monitoring on the basis of his or her responses to the self-monitoring scale.

As you can see in Figure 3.12 , Cheng and Chartrand found an interaction effect: the students who had been classified as high self-monitors were more likely to mimic the behavior of the confederate when she was described as being the leader than when she was described as being the worker, indicating that they were “tuned in” to the social situation and modified their behavior to appear more positively. Although the low self-monitors did mimic the other person, they did not mimic her more when the other was high, versus low, status. This finding is consistent with the idea that the high self-monitors were particularly aware of the other person’s status and attempted to self-present more positively to the high-status leader. The low self-monitors, on the other hand—because they feel less need to impress overall—did not pay much attention to the other person’s status.

High self-monitors imitated more when the person they were interacting with was of higher (versus lower) status. Low self-monitors were not sensitive to the status of the other. Data are from Cheng and Chartrand (2003).

This differential sensitivity to social dynamics between high and low self-monitors suggests that their self-esteem will be affected by different factors. For people who are high in self-monitoring, their self-esteem may be positively impacted when they perceive that their behavior matches the social demands of the situation, and negatively affected when they feel that it does not. In contrast, low self-monitors may experience self-esteem boosts when they see themselves behaving consistently with their internal standards, and feel less self-worth when they feel they are not living up to them (Ickes, Holloway, Stinson, & Hoodenpyle, 2006).

Key Takeaways

  • Our self-concepts are affected by others’ appraisals, as demonstrated by concepts including the looking-glass self and self-labeling.
  • The self-concept and self-esteem are also often strongly influenced by social comparison. For example, we use social comparison to determine the accuracy and appropriateness of our thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
  • When we are able to compare ourselves favorably with others through downward social comparison, we feel good about ourselves. Upward social comparison with others who are better off than we are leads to negative emotions.
  • Social identity refers to the positive emotions that we experience as a member of an important social group.
  • Normally, our group memberships result in positive feelings, which occur because we perceive our own groups, and thus ourselves, in a positive light.
  • Which of our many category identities is most accessible for us will vary from day to day as a function of the particular situation we are in.
  • In the face of others’ behaviors, we may enhance our self-esteem by “basking in the reflected glory” of our ingroups or of other people we know.
  • If other people’s actions threaten our sense of self according to self-evaluation maintenance theory, we may engage in a variety of strategies aimed at redefining our self-concept and rebuilding our self-esteem.
  • The tendency to present a positive self-image to others, with the goal of increasing our social status, is known as self-presentation, and it is a basic and natural part of everyday life. Different self-presentation strategies may be used to create different emotions in other people.
  • We often use self-presentation in the longer term, seeking to build and sustain particular reputations with specific social audiences.
  • The individual-difference variable of self-monitoring relates to the ability and desire to self-present.

Exercises and Critical Thinking

  • Describe some aspects of your self-concept that have been created through social comparison.
  • Describe times when you have engaged in downward and upward social comparison and the effects these comparisons have had on your self-esteem. To what extent do your experiences fit with the research evidence here?
  • What are your most salient social identities? How do they create positive feelings for you?
  • Outline a situation where someone else’s behavior has threatened your self-concept. Which of the strategies outlined in relation to self-evaluation maintenance theory did you engage in to rebuild your self-concept?
  • Identify a situation where you basked in the reflected glory of your ingroup’s behavior or peformance. What effect did this have on your self-esteem and why?
  • Describe some situations where people you know have used each of the self-presentation strategies that were listed in this section. Which strategies seem to be more and less effective in helping them to achieve their social goals, and why?
  • Consider your own level of self-monitoring. Do you think that you are more of a high or a low self-monitor, and why? What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages for you of the level of self-monitoring that you have?

Baldwin, M. W., & Holmes, J. O. (1987). Salient private audiences and awareness of the self. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52 , 1087-1098.

Baumeister, R. F., Smart, L., & Boden, J. M. (1996). Relation of threatened egotism to violence and aggression: The dark side of high self-esteem. Psychological Review, 103 (1), 5-33. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.103.1.5

Bauer, I., Wrosch, C., & Jobin, J. (2008). I’m better off than most other people: The role of social comparisons for coping with regret in young adulthood and old age. Psychology And Aging, 23 (4), 800-811. doi:10.1037/a0014180

Bazarova, N. N., Taft, J. G., Choi, Y., & Cosley, D. (2013). Managing impressions and relationships on Facebook: Self-presentational and relational concerns revealed through the analysis of language style. Journal Of Language And Social Psychology, 32 (2), 121-141. doi:10.1177/0261927X12456384

Beach, S. H., Tesser, A., Mendolia, M., Anderson, P., Crelia, R., Whitaker, D., & Fincham, F. D. (1996). Self-evaluation maintenance in marriage: Toward a performance ecology of the marital relationship. Journal of Family Psychology, 10 (4), 379-396. doi:10.1037/0893-3200.10.4.379

Beer, A., Watson, D., & McDade-Montez, E. (2013). Self–other agreement and assumed similarity in neuroticism, extraversion, and trait affect: Distinguishing the effects of form and content. Assessment, 20 (6), 723-737. doi:10.1177/1073191113500521

Blanton, H., Buunk, B. P., Gibbons, F. X., & Kuyper, H. (1999). When better-than-others compare upward: Choice of comparison and comparative evaluation as independent predictors of academic performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76 (3), 420–430.

Buunk, A. P., & Gibbons, F. X. (2007). Social comparison: The end of a theory and the emergence of a field. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 102 (1), 3–21.

Buunk, B. P., Gibbons, F. X., & Buunk, A. P. (1997). Health, coping and well-being: Perspectives from social comparison theory . Psychology Press.

Buunk, A. P., Gibbons, F. X., & Visser, A. (2002). The relevance of social comparison processes for prevention and health care. Patient Education and Counseling, 47 , 1–3.

Buunk, B. P., Zurriaga, R., Peiró, J. M., Nauta, A., & Gosalvez, I. (2005). Social comparisons at work as related to a cooperative social climate and to individual differences in social comparison orientation. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 54 (1), 61-80. doi:10.1111/j.1464-0597.2005.00196.x

Bye, H., Sandal, G., van de Vijver, F. R., Sam, D., Çakar, N., & Franke, G. (2011). Personal values and intended self‐presentation during job interviews: A cross‐cultural comparison. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 60 (1), 160-182. doi:10.1111/j.1464-0597.2010.00432.x

Carter, L. (2012). Locus of control, internalized heterosexism, experiences of prejudice, and the psychological adjustment of lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals. Dissertation Abstracts International, 73 .

Cheng, C., & Chartrand, T. L. (2003). Self-Monitoring Without Awareness: Using Mimicry as a Nonconscious Affiliation Strategy. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 85 (6), 1170-1179. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.85.6.1170

Cialdini, R. B., Borden, R. J., Thorne, A., Walker, M. R., Freeman, S., & Sloan, L. R. (1976). Basking in reflected glory: Three (football) field studies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 34 , 366–374.

Collins, R. L. (2000). Among the better ones: Upward assimilation in social comparison. In J. Suls & L. Wheeler (Eds.), Handbook of social comparison (pp. 159–172). New York, NY: Kulwer Academic/Plenum.

Cooley, C. H. (1902). Human nature and social order . New York: Scribner’s.

Deaux, K., Reid, A., Mizrahi, K., & Ethier, K. A. (1995). Parameters of social identity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68 (2), 280–291.

Dovidio, J. F., Brown, C. E., Heltman, K., Ellyson, S. L., & Keating, C. F. (1988). Power displays between women and men in discussions of gender-linked tasks: A multichannel study. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 55 (4), 580-587. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.55.4.580

Eagly, A. H., & Carli, L. L. (2007). Through the labyrinth: The truth about how women become leaders . Boston, MA, US: Harvard Business School Press.

Emler, N. & Reicher, S. (1995). Adolescence and delinquency: The collective management of reputation . Malden Blackwell Publishing.

Emler, N., Tarry, H. & St. James, A. (2007). Postconventional moral reasoning and reputation. Journal of Research in Personality, 41 , 76-89.

Feinstein, B. A., Hershenberg, R., Bhatia, V., Latack, J. A., Meuwly, N., & Davila, J. (2013). Negative social comparison on Facebook and depressive symptoms: Rumination as a mechanism. Psychology Of Popular Media Culture, 2 (3), 161-170. doi:10.1037/a003311

Festinger, L. U. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human Relations, 7 , 117-140. doi: 10.1177/001872675400700202

Fox, J. D., & Stinnett, T. A. (1996). The effects of labeling bias on prognostic outlook for children as a function of diagnostic label and profession. Psychology In The Schools, 33 (2), 143-152.

Friedlander, M. L., & Schwartz, G. S. (1985). Toward a theory of strategic self-presentation in counseling and psychotherapy. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 32 (4), 483-501. doi: 10.10370022-0167.32.4.483

Galinsky, A. D., Wang, C. S., Whitson, J. A., Anicich, E. M., Hugenberg, K., & Bodenhausen, G. V. (2013). The reappropriation of stigmatizing labels: The reciprocal relationship between power and self-labeling. Psychological Science, 24 (10), 2020-2029. doi:10.1177/0956797613482943

Gangestad, S. W., & Snyder, M. (2000). Self-monitoring: Appraisal and reappraisal. Psychological Bulletin, 126 (4), 530-555. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.126.4.530

Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. Oxford, England: Doubleday.

Goldstein, N. J., Cialdini, R. B., & Griskevicius, V. (2008). A room with a viewpoint: Using social norms to motivate environmental conservation in hotels. Journal of Consumer Research, 35 (3), 472-482.

Hardin, C., & Higgins, T. (1996). Shared reality: How social verification makes the subjective objective. In R. M. Sorrentino & E. T. Higgins (Eds.), Handbook of motivation and cognition: Foundations of social behavior (Vol. 3, pp. 28–84). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Helgeson, V. S., & Mickelson, K. (2000). Coping with chronic illness among the elderly: Maintaining self-esteem. In S. B. Manuck, R. Jennings, B. S. Rabin, & A. Baum (Eds.), Behavior, health, and aging . Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Higgins, E. T., Loeb, I., & Moretti, M. (Eds.). (1995). Self-discrepancies and developmental shifts in vulnerability: Life transitions in the regulatory significance of others . Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.

Hogg, M. A. (2003). Social identity. In M. R. Leary, J. P. Tangney, M. R. E. Leary, & J. P. E. Tangney (Eds.), Handbook of self and identity (pp. 462–479). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Ickes, W., Holloway, R., Stinson, L. L., & Hoodenpyle, T. (2006). Self-Monitoring in Social Interaction: The Centrality of Self-Affect. Journal Of Personality, 74 (3), 659-684. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.2006.00388.x

Jones, E. E., & Pittman, T. S. (1982). Toward a general theory of strategic self presentation. In J. Suls (Ed.), Psychological perspectives on the self. Hillsdale, NJ:Erlbaum

König, C. J., Hafsteinsson, L. G., Jansen, A., & Stadelmann, E. H. (2011). Applicants’ self‐presentational behavior across cultures: Less self‐presentation in Switzerland and Iceland than in the United States. International Journal Of Selection And Assessment,19 (4), 331-339.

Kulik, J. A., Mahler, H. I. M., & Moore, P. J. (1996). Social comparison and affiliation under threat: Effects on recovery from major surgery. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71 (5), 967–979.

López-Romero, L., & Romero, E. (2011). Reputation management of adolescents in relation to antisocial behavior. The Journal of Genetic Psychology: Research And Theory On Human Development, 172 (4), 440-446. doi:10.1080/00221325.2010.549156

Luhtanen, R., & Crocker, J. (1992). A collective self-esteem scale: Self-evaluation of one’s social identity. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 18 , 302–318.

Marsh, H. W., Kong, C.-K., & Hau, K-T. (2000). Longitudinal multilevel models of the big-fish-little-pond effect on academic self-concept: Counterbalancing contrast and reflected-glory effects in Hong Kong schools. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78 , 337–349.

Marwick, A. E., & Boyd, D. (2011). I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience. New Media & Society, 13 (1), 114-133. doi:10.1177/1461444810365313

Mazur, E., & Kozarian, L. (2010). Self-presentation and interaction in blogs of adolescents and young emerging adults. Journal Of Adolescent Research, 25 (1), 124-144. doi:10.1177/0743558409350498

Mehdizadeh, S. (2010). Self-presentation 2.0: Narcissism and self-esteem on Facebook. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, And Social Networking, 13 (4), 357-364. doi:10.1089/cyber.2009.0257

Morse, S., & Gergen, K. (1970). Social comparison, self-consistency, and the concept of self. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 16 (1), 148–156.

Moses, T. (2009). Self-labeling and its effects among adolescents diagnosed with mental disorders. Social Science and Medicine, 68 (3), 570-578.

Nicholls, E., & Stukas, A. A. (2011). Narcissism and the self-evaluation maintenance model: Effects of social comparison threats on relationship closeness. The Journal of Social Psychology, 151 (2), 201-212. doi:10.1080/00224540903510852

Oakes, P. J., Haslam, S. A., & Turner, J. C. (1994). Sterotyping and social reality . Oxford, England: Blackwell.

Perkins, K., Wiley, S., & Deaux, K. (2014). Through which looking glass? Distinct sources of public regard and self-esteem among first- and second-generation immigrants of color. Cultural Diversity And Ethnic Minority Psychology, 20 (2), 213-219. doi:10.1037/a0035435

Schachter, S. (1959). The psychology of affiliation. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Schlenker, B. R. (2003). Self-presentation. In M. R. Leary, J. P. Tangney, M. R. E. Leary, & J. P. E. Tangney (Eds.), Handbook of self and identity (pp. 492–518). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Siero, F. W., Bakker, A. B., Dekker, G. B., & van den Berg, M. T. (1996). Changing organizational energy consumption behavior through comparative feedback. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 16 , 235-246.

Smith, K., Smith, M., & Wang, K. (2010). Does brand management of corporate reputation translate into higher market value?. Journal of Strategic Marketing, 18 (3), 201-221. doi:10.1080/09652540903537030

Snyder, C., Cheavens, J., & Sympson, S. (1997). Hope: An individual motive for social commerce. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 1 , 107–118.

Strauman, T. J., & Higgins, E. T. (1988). Self-discrepancies as predictors of vulnerability to distinct syndromes of chronic emotional distress. Journal of Personality, 56 (4), 685–707.

Szymanski, D. M., & Obiri, O. (2011). Do religious coping styles moderate or mediate the external and internalized racism-distress links? The Counseling Psychologist, 39 (3), 438-462. doi:10.1177/0011000010378895

Tajfel, H. (1981). Human groups and social categories: Studies in social psychology . Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Taylor, L.M., Hume, I.R., and Welsh, N. (2010) Labelling and Self-esteem: The impact of using specific versus generic labels. Educational Psychology, 1 , 1-12

Tesser, A. (1980) Self–esteem maintenance in family dynamics. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1980, 39 (1),

Tesser, A. (1988). Toward a self-evaluation maintenance model of social behavior. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 21 , 181–227.

Toma, C. L., Hancock, J. T., & Ellison, N. B. (2008). Separating fact from fiction: An examination of deceptive self-presentation in online dating profiles. Personality And Social Psychology Bulletin, 34 (8), 1023-1036. doi:10.1177/0146167208318067

Van Lange, P. A. M. (2008). Social comparison is basic to social psychology. American Journal of Psychology, 121 (1), 169–172.

Vrugt, A., & Koenis, S. (2002). Perceived self-efficacy, personal goals, social comparison, and scientific productivity. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 51 (4), 593–607.

Wang, S., & Stefanone, M. A. (2013). Showing off? Human mobility and the interplay of traits, self-disclosure, and Facebook check-ins. Social Science Computer Review, 31 (4), 437-457.

White, K., & Lehman, D. R. (2005). Culture and social comparison seeking: The role of self-motives. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31 , 232-242.

Wiederhold, B. K. (2012). As parents invade Faceboo, teens tweet more. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15 (8), 385-386.

Wosinska, W., Dabul, A. J., Whetstone-Dion, R., & Cialdini, R. B. (1996). Self-presentational responses to success in the organization: The costs and benefits of modesty. Basic And Applied Social Psychology, 18 (2), 229-242. doi:10.1207/s15324834basp1802_8

Yakushko, O., Davidson, M., & Williams, E.N. (2009). Identity Salience Model: A paradigm for integrating multiple identities in clinical practice. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training 46 , 180-192. doi: 10.1037/a0016080

Yeung, K., & Martin, J. (2003). The Looking Glass Self: An empirical test and elaboration. Social Forces, 81 (3), 843-879. doi:10.1353/sof.2003.0048

  • 24338 reads
  • Authors & Informations
  • About the Book
  • The History of Social Psychology
  • The Person and the Social Situation
  • Evolutionary Adaptation and Human Characteristics
  • Self-Concern
  • Other-Concern
  • Social Psychology in the Public Interest
  • Social Influence Creates Social Norms
  • Different Cultures Have Different Norms Key Takeaways Exercises and Critical Thinking
  • Social Cognition: Thinking and Learning about Others
  • Social Affect: Feelings about Ourselves and Others
  • Social Behavior: Interacting with Others Key Takeaways Exercise and Critical Thinking
  • The Importance of Scientific Research
  • Measuring Affect, Behavior, and Cognition
  • Social Neuroscience: Measuring Social Responses in the Brain
  • Observational Research
  • The Research Hypothesis
  • Correlational Research
  • Experimental Research
  • Factorial Research Designs
  • Deception in Social Psychology Experiments
  • Interpreting Research Key Takeaways Exercises and Critical Thinking
  • Chapter Summary
  • Our Knowledge Accumulates as a Result of Learning
  • Operant Learning
  • Associational Learning Video
  • Observational Learning Video
  • Schemas as Social Knowledge
  • How Schemas Develop: Accommodation and Assimilation
  • How Schemas Maintain Themselves: The Power of Assimilation Research Focus: The Confirmation Bias Research Focus: Schemas as Energy Savers Key Takeaways Exercises and Critical Thinking
  • Automatic versus Controlled Cognition Research Focus: Behavioral Effects of Priming
  • Salience and Accessibility Determine Which Expectations We Use
  • Cognitive Accessibility
  • The False Consensus Bias Makes Us Think That Others Are More Like Us Than They Really Are
  • Perceptions of What “Might Have Been” Lead to Counterfactual Thinking
  • Anchoring and Adjustment Lead Us to Accept Ideas That We Should Revise
  • Overconfidence
  • The Importance of Cognitive Biases in Everyday Life
  • Social Psychology in the Public Interest Key Takeaways Exercises and Critical Thinking
  • Affect Influences Cognition
  • The Power of Positive Cognition
  • Cognition About Affect: The Case of Affective Forecasting Key Takeaways Exercises and Critical Thinking
  • Thinking Like a Social Psychologist about Social Cognition
  • Development and Characteristics of the Self-Concept
  • Self-Complexity and Self-Concept Clarity
  • Overestimating How Closely and Accurately Others View Us Key Takeaways Exercises and Critical Thinking
  • Self-Esteem The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale
  • Maintaining and Enhancing Self-Esteem Research Focus: Processing Information to Enhance the Self
  • The Looking-Glass Self: Our Sense of Self is Influenced by Others’ Views of Us
  • Social Comparison Theory: Our Sense of Self Is Influenced by Comparisons with Others Research Focus: Affiliation and Social Comparison
  • Upward and Downward Comparisons Influence Our Self-Esteem
  • Social Identity Theory: Our Sense of Self Is Influenced by the Groups We Belong To A Measure of Social Identity
  • Self-Presentation: Our Sense of Self Is Influenced by the Audiences We Have Key Takeaways Exercises and Critical Thinking
  • Thinking Like a Social Psychologist about the Self
  • Attitudes Are Evaluations
  • Some Attitudes Are Stronger Than Others
  • When Do Our Attitudes Guide Our Behavior? Research Focus: Attitude-Behavior Consistency Key Takeaways Exercises and Critical Thinking
  • Choosing Effective Communicators
  • Creating Effective Communications
  • Spontaneous Message Processing
  • Thoughtful Message Processing
  • Which Route Do We Take: Thoughtful or Spontaneous?
  • Self-Perception Involves Inferring Our Beliefs from Our Behaviors Research Focus: Looking at Our Own Behavior to Determine Our Attitudes
  • Creating Insufficient Justification and Overjustification
  • The Experience of Cognitive Dissonance Can Create Attitude Change
  • We Reduce Dissonance by Decreasing Dissonant or by Increasing Consonant Cognitions
  • Cognitive Dissonance in Everyday Life
  • Thinking Like a Social Psychologist about Attitudes, Behavior, and Persuasion
  • Nonverbal Behavior
  • Detecting Danger by Focusing on Negative Information Social Psychology in the Public Interest: Detecting Deception
  • Judging People by Their Traits
  • Combining Traits: Information Integration
  • The Importance of the Central Traits Warm and Cold
  • First Impressions Matter: The Primacy Effect Key Takeaways Exercises and Critical Thinking
  • Making Inferences about Personality
  • Detecting the Covariation between Personality and Behavior
  • Attributions for Success and Failure Key Takeaways Exercises and Critical Thinking
  • Are Our Attributions Accurate?
  • The Fundamental Attribution Error
  • The Actor-Observer Bias
  • Self-Serving Biases
  • Group-Serving Biases
  • Victim-Blaming Biases Key Takeaways Exercises and Critical Thinking
  • Perceiver Characteristics Research Focus: How Our Attributions Can Influence Our School Performance
  • Attributional Styles and Mental Health Key Takeaways Exercises and Critical Thinking
  • Thinking Like a Social Psychologist about Person Perception
  • Informational Social Influence: Conforming to Be Accurate
  • Normative Social Influence: Conforming to Be Liked and to Avoid Rejection
  • Majority Influence: Conforming to the Group
  • Minority Influence: Resisting Group Pressure
  • The Size of the Majority
  • The Unanimity of the Majority
  • The Importance of the Task Research Focus: How Task Importance and Confidence Influence Conformity Key Takeaways Exercises and Critical Thinking
  • Reward Power
  • Coercive Power
  • Legitimate Power
  • Referent Power
  • Expert Power Research Focus: Does Power Corrupt?
  • Personality and Leadership
  • Leadership as an Interaction between the Person and the Situation Key Takeaways Exercises and Critical Thinking
  • Person Differences
  • Gender Differences
  • Cultural Differences
  • Psychological Reactance Key Takeaways Exercise and Critical Thinking
  • Thinking Like a Social Psychologist about Social Influence
  • Physical Attractiveness
  • Why Is Physical Attractiveness So Important?
  • Why Does Similarity Matter?
  • Status Similarity
  • Affect and Attraction Research Focus: Arousal and Attraction Key Takeaways Exercises and Critical Thinking
  • Closeness and Intimacy
  • Communal and Exchange Relationships
  • Interdependence and Commitment
  • What Is Love? Research Focus: Romantic Love Reduces Our Attention to Attractive Others
  • Making Relationships Last
  • When Relationships End Key Takeaways Exercises and Critical Thinking
  • Thinking Like a Social Psychologist about Liking and Loving
  • Reciprocity and Social Exchange
  • Social Reinforcement and Altruism: The Role of Rewards and Costs
  • Social Norms for Helping Research Focus: Moral Hypocrisy Key Takeaways Exercises and Critical Thinking
  • Positive Moods Increase Helping
  • Relieving Negative Emotions: Guilt Increases Helping
  • Personal Distress and Empathy as Determinants of Helping Research Focus: Personal Distress versus Empathy as Determinants of Helping Key Takeaways Exercises and Critical Thinking
  • Latané and Darley’s Model of Helping
  • Interpreting
  • Taking Responsibility
  • Implementing Action Key Takeaways Exercises and Critical Thinking
  • Some People Are More Helpful Than Others: The Altruistic Personality
  • Who Do We Help? Attributions and Helping
  • Reactions to Receiving Help
  • Cultural Issues in Helping
  • Increasing Helping Key Takeaways Exercises and Critical Thinking
  • Thinking Like a Social Psychologist about Altruism
  • Is Aggression Evolutionarily Adaptive?
  • The Role of Biology in Aggression
  • Hormones Influence Aggression: Testosterone and Serotonin
  • Drinking Alcohol Increases Aggression
  • Negative Emotions Cause Aggression Research Focus: The Effects of Provocation and Fear of Death on Aggression
  • Can We Reduce Negative Emotions by Engaging in Aggressive Behavior? Key Takeaways Exercises and Critical Thinking
  • Social Learning and Modeling: Is Aggression Learned?
  • Violence Creates More Violence: Television, Video Games, and Handguns Research Focus: The Effects of Violent Video Games on Aggression
  • Why Does Viewing Violence Lead to Aggression? Key Takeaways Exercises and Critical Thinking
  • Individual Differences in Aggression
  • Gender Differences in Aggression
  • Thinking Like a Social Psychologist about Aggression
  • Communication, Interdependence, and Group Structure
  • Social Identity
  • The Stages of Group Development Key Takeaways Exercises and Critical Thinking
  • Social Facilitation and Social Inhibition
  • Person Variables: Group Member Characteristics
  • The Importance of the Social Situation: Task Characteristics
  • Social Loafing Research Focus: Differentiating Coordination Losses from Social Loafing Key Takeaways Exercises and Critical Thinking
  • Process Gains in Group versus Individual Decision Making
  • Process Losses Due to Group Conformity Pressures: Groupthink
  • Cognitive Process Losses: Lack of Information Sharing Research Focus: Poor Information Sharing in Groups
  • Cognitive Process Losses: Ineffective Brainstorming
  • Motivating Groups to Perform Better by Appealing to Self-Interest
  • Cognitive Approaches: Improving Communication and Information Sharing
  • Setting Appropriate Goals
  • Group Member Diversity: Costs and Benefits Key Takeaways Exercises and Critical Thinking
  • Thinking Like a Social Psychologist about Social Groups
  • Spontaneous Social Categorization
  • The Benefits of Social Categorization
  • Liking “Us” More Than “Them”: Ingroup Favoritism
  • The Outcomes of Ingroup Favoritism
  • Ingroup Favoritism Has Many Causes
  • When Ingroup Favoritism Does Not Occur
  • Personality and Cultural Determinants of Ingroup Favoritism Key Takeaways Exercises and Critical Thinking
  • Reducing Discrimination by Changing Social Norms
  • Reducing Prejudice through Intergroup Contact Research Focus: The Extended-Contact Hypothesis
  • Moving Others Closer to Us: The Benefits of Recategorization Key Takeaways Exercises and Critical Thinking
  • Thinking Like a Social Psychologist about Stereotyping, Prejudice, and Discrimination
  • Competition and Conflict
  • Social Fairness
  • How the Social Situation Creates Conflict: The Role of Social Dilemmas Learning Objectives
  • Characteristics of the Prisoner’s Dilemma
  • Variations on the Prisoner’s Dilemma
  • Resource Dilemma Games Research Focus: The Trucking Game
  • Who Cooperates and Who Competes? Research Focus: Self- and Other-Orientations in Social Dilemmas
  • Gender and Cultural Differences in Cooperation and Competition Key Takeaways Exercises and Critical Thinking
  • Task Characteristics and Perceptions
  • Privatization
  • The Important Role of Communication
  • The Tit-for-Tat Strategy
  • Formal Solutions to Conflict: Negotiation, Mediation, and Arbitration Key Takeaways Exercise and Critical Thinking
  • Thinking Like a Social Psychologist about Cooperation and Competition
  •  Back Matter

This action cannot be undo.

Choose a delete action Empty this page Remove this page and its subpages

Content is out of sync. You must reload the page to continue.

New page type Book Topic Interactive Learning Content

  • Config Page
  • Add Page Before
  • Add Page After
  • Delete Page

HKMU

  • Self Introduction
  • Start Conversation
  • Self Introduction Generator
  • Introduction in Other Languages

My Self Introduction

Self Presentation And Self Presentation Theory Explained

Drew E. Grable

What is Self Presentation?

Self presentation is something that everyone needs to learn, but not many do. If you watch television, movies, read magazines, or even visit social networking websites, you’ll see lots of people talking about who they are. However, very few actually talk about how they feel and why they think the way that they do.

One thing most people struggle with when it comes to self presentation is confidence. People often don’t know what to say or what to ask. They worry about what other people might think of them or what others will think if they start to open up to them. So, instead of taking the plunge and starting to share things about yourself, you just stay quiet. This makes no sense because you never get anywhere in life by keeping silent.

But here’s a little secret – sharing who we are can help us grow personally, professionally and financially.

Self-presentation Definition

When you’re trying to get ahead in life, you need to be able to present yourself in the best possible way. If you don’t know how to do this, you might end up looking like an amateur.

Here is a definition of self presentation.

A person’s self presentation is the way that he or she presents himself to other people. This includes things such as his or her clothing, hairstyle, and makeup.

What Is Self Presentation Theory?

Self-presentation theory is a psychological theory that explains how people present themselves to others. Self-presentation can take many forms, including verbal, nonverbal, and behavioral.

It has two parts: the self-concept and the self-schema. The self-concept is how we see ourselves concerning others; the self-schema is how we see ourselves concerning our thoughts and feelings.

The impact of self-presentation theory on organizations has been significant because it helps us understand why people make some choices over others when they are trying to sell something or position themselves for a job interview or promotion.

The theory was originally developed by anthropologist Sherry Turkle in 1977. In her book Life On The Screen, she wrote about how people use technology to try to create an idealized version of themselves for others, and then try to make their idealized selves real through interactions with other people.

This idea has become more popular in recent years as we have become increasingly connected through technology like social media and smartphones. We see examples all around us: people posting selfies on Instagram with their friends or families who aren’t there; people tweeting updates about their lives while they’re at work, and other examples too numerous to name here.

self presentation

Drew is the creator of myselfintroduction.com, designed to teach everyone how to introduce themselves to anyone with confidence in any situation.

Leave A Reply Cancel Reply

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

Type above and press Enter to search. Press Esc to cancel.

RBC Ukraine

Key rules of self-presentation in IT job interviews: Recruiter's life hacks

A n IT interview consists of various stages, one of which is the candidate's self-presentation. Recruiters and HR managers emphasize that the impression of a person, both positive and negative, can be formed in the first minutes of communication.

Sources used: dev.ua, DOU, Work.ua, and Happy Monday.

Most common mistakes

Self-presentation is an important part of the interview, as it forms the overall impression of the candidate in the eyes of the recruiter, HR manager, or other interviewer.

According to Alina Bernatska, a career consultant and recruiter at TechMagis, "No one will know how great you are until you learn how to talk about it and present your experience accurately."

It is worth highlighting some typical mistakes that candidates most often make during self-presentation:

a biographical story that starts from the day of birth; a story about irrelevant experience for a particular position; communication in the "Yes/No" style, which is argued by the fact that everything in the CV should be clear.

Successful self-presentation is a step towards success (illustrative photo: pixabay.com)

Preparing for self-presentation

You need to prepare for an interview because a confused and clumsy candidate is unlikely to get the position he or she wants.

In preparation for your self-presentation, answer a few basic questions:

why are you doing this (to get a job in a particular position) what result do you want to get (to move to the next stage of the interview) how you will do it (impress the interlocutor with your confidence, competence, successful cases, and relevant examples from past projects).

After that, experts advise you to start planning your self-presentation.

Recall everything you know about the company , project, or product you want to work with (understanding the values and goals of the employer is essential for adequate communication and further cooperation).

Review your previous experience in terms of the requirements for the chosen position (in order not to overload the interlocutor with unnecessary information, emphasizing instead the most important achievements).

Mention the main victories and failures (this will help to focus the interlocutor's attention on strengths and weaknesses at the right time).

Recall everything that is written in your CV (any information from your CV can turn into a question).

A resume should contain only the truth, without exaggeration (illustrative photo: pixabay.com)

Analyze your level of communication skills and, if necessary, even practice in front of a mirror.

Improve your English (especially your oral communication).

Make a conditional plan \- what and how you will say during the interview.

Prepare questions or clarifications about the company, project, or team (goals, objectives, tasks, etc.).

Check if your internet connection is working well, and if there are any malfunctions with your headset or camera (if the interview is online).

Prepare an alternative source of power and internet access in case of technical problems or blackouts (if the interview is online).

Think about the place for the online interview \- with sufficient lighting and no monkeys in the background.

Take care of your wardrobe and appearance \- the candidate should be neat during the interview, and his or her clothes should be discreet.

You don't have to wear a three-piece suit to look neat (illustrative photo: pixabay.com)

Self-presentation plan

During the interview, you should impress the potential employer not with pathos, but with:

personal qualities, behavior, ability to communicate and interact (soft skills); specific knowledge, skills, and abilities required for the chosen position (hard skills).

Based on this, your self-presentation should contain information about

previous relevant professional experience and achievements, knowledge, and skills (with specific facts and figures); technologies, programs, tools, approaches, or projects (with which you have worked the most); specialized education (if it is relevant to the position you are applying for); development plans (both personal and professional); expectations for your future career (what you plan to achieve, which goals are most interesting to you, and which are less desirable); why you are suitable for this position (based on specific examples, knowledge, and achievements); why you chose this particular field of work or IT profession (if you came to IT from another field).

Self-presentation should not tire the interlocutor (illustrative photo: pixabay.com)

Tips for candidates

Experts advise candidates to follow some basic recommendations when presenting themselves during an interview.

Hold yourself confidently and without unnecessary tension \- straighten your back, straighten your shoulders (because the emotional state directly depends on the physical state), do not avoid the interlocutor's gaze, do not be afraid to smile, do not avoid "basic" emotions.

Avoid pathos and inflated self-esteem \- no one likes to cooperate with "know-it-alls" who look down on others.

Be ready to "establish contact" and maintain a dialog \- the so-called small talk (or even initiate it) - it is about adequate communication and human qualities that are easier to identify in a conversation about "life", the office, etc.

Be friendly and positive \- do not forget about the basic rules of etiquette.

Be honest and open \- even if you don't know something, it's better to explain that you haven't worked with it before, but you plan to figure it out in the future (and do it).

Demonstrate your interest in the job, cooperation, and project \- ask prepared questions in advance, and clarify anything you don't understand.

Self-presentation influences the attitude towards a candidate (photo: Freepik)

WED@NICO SEMINAR: Jeremy Birnholtz, Northwestern School of Communication "Self-Presentation in Sociotechnical Life: How We Present Ourselves to Each Other in a World of Digital Platforms"

When: Wednesday, February 28, 2024 12:00 PM - 1:00 PM CT

Where: Chambers Hall, Lower Level, 600 Foster St, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Group: Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems (NICO)

Category: Academic , Lectures & Meetings

Description:

Jeremy Birnholtz, Professor, School of Communication, Northwestern University

Self-Presentation in Sociotechnical Life: How We Present Ourselves to Each Other in a World of Digital Platforms

Abstract: 

Self-presentation, rooted in Goffman’s classic work, is the fundamental social process by which people shape their public personas and play the social roles (e.g., teacher, student, lesbian, doctor, etc.) that structure our everyday interactions. Today’s social platforms and communication technologies, however, complicate this process in ways that Goffman could never have anticipated. Specifically, the “physics” of how information moves in the environment have changed and can vary widely from platform to platform. And we lack a systematic framework for discussing these differences and how people cope with them (and their consequences). In this talk, I will discuss a book manuscript Michael Ann DeVito and I are working on to address this gap. I will give an overview of the framework, our focus in particular on LGBTQ+ populations, and how we can use this work to better understand and describe important social behavior in a range of online contexts.

Speaker Bio:

Jeremy Birnholtz is a Professor in the Communication Studies and, by courtesy, Computer Science Departments at Northwestern University. He is a recent past Van Zelst Research Professor and Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence at Northwestern, and has also worked as a visiting professor at Facebook. Jeremy has been studying the social dynamics of online attention and self-presentation for nearly 20 years in work supported by the National Science Foundation, Facebook and Google. His work has been published in top journals and conferences in HCI, organization behavior and communication.

In person: Chambers Hall, 600 Foster Street, Lower Level Remote option: https://northwestern.zoom.us/j/95815707325 Passcode: NICO2024

About the Speaker Series:

Wednesdays@NICO is a vibrant weekly seminar series focusing broadly on the topics of complex systems and data science. It brings together attendees ranging from graduate students to senior faculty who span all of the schools across Northwestern, from applied math to sociology to biology and every discipline in-between. Please visit: https://bit.ly/WedatNICO for information on future speakers.

Add Event To My Group:

Please sign-in

15 Social Psychology

Self-presentation, learning objectives.

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe social roles and how they influence behavior
  • Explain what social norms are and how they influence behavior
  • Define script
  • Describe the findings of Zimbardo’s Stanford prison experiment

As you’ve learned, social psychology is the study of how people affect one another’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We have discussed situational perspectives and social psychology’s emphasis on the ways in which a person’s environment, including culture and other social influences, affect behavior. In this section, we examine situational forces that have a strong influence on human behavior including social roles, social norms, and scripts. We discuss how humans use the social environment as a source of information, or cues, on how to behave. Situational influences on our behavior have important consequences, such as whether we will help a stranger in an emergency or how we would behave in an unfamiliar environment.

SOCIAL ROLES

One major social determinant of human behavior is our social roles. A social role is a pattern of behavior that is expected of a person in a given setting or group (Hare, 2003). Each one of us has several social roles. You may be, at the same time, a student, a parent, an aspiring teacher, a son or daughter, a spouse, and a lifeguard. How do these social roles influence your behavior? Social roles are defined by culturally shared knowledge. That is, nearly everyone in a given culture knows what behavior is expected of a person in a given role. For example, what is the social role for a student? If you look around a college classroom you will likely see students engaging in studious behavior, taking notes, listening to the professor, reading the textbook, and sitting quietly at their desks ( [link] ). Of course you may see students deviating from the expected studious behavior such as texting on their phones or using Facebook on their laptops, but in all cases, the students that you observe are attending class—a part of the social role of students.

A photograph shows students in a classroom.

Being a student is just one of the many social roles you have. (credit: “University of Michigan MSIS”/Flickr)

Social roles, and our related behavior, can vary across different settings. How do you behave when you are engaging in the role of son or daughter and attending a family function? Now imagine how you behave when you are engaged in the role of employee at your workplace. It is very likely that your behavior will be different. Perhaps you are more relaxed and outgoing with your family, making jokes and doing silly things. But at your workplace you might speak more professionally, and although you may be friendly, you are also serious and focused on getting the work completed. These are examples of how our social roles influence and often dictate our behavior to the extent that identity and personality can vary with context (that is, in different social groups) (Malloy, Albright, Kenny, Agatstein & Winquist, 1997).

SOCIAL NORMS

As discussed previously, social roles are defined by a culture’s shared knowledge of what is expected behavior of an individual in a specific role. This shared knowledge comes from social norms. A social norm is a group’s expectation of what is appropriate and acceptable behavior for its members—how they are supposed to behave and think (Deutsch & Gerard, 1955; Berkowitz, 2004). How are we expected to act? What are we expected to talk about? What are we expected to wear? In our discussion of social roles we noted that colleges have social norms for students’ behavior in the role of student and workplaces have social norms for employees’ behaviors in the role of employee. Social norms are everywhere including in families, gangs, and on social media outlets. What are some social norms on Facebook?

My 11-year-old daughter, Jessica, recently told me she needed shorts and shirts for the summer, and that she wanted me to take her to a store at the mall that is popular with preteens and teens to buy them. I have noticed that many girls have clothes from that store, so I tried teasing her. I said, “All the shirts say ‘Aero’ on the front. If you are wearing a shirt like that and you have a substitute teacher, and the other girls are all wearing that type of shirt, won’t the substitute teacher think you are all named ‘Aero’?”

My daughter replied, in typical 11-year-old fashion, “Mom, you are not funny. Can we please go shopping?”

I tried a different tactic. I asked Jessica if having clothing from that particular store will make her popular. She replied, “No, it will not make me popular. It is what the popular kids wear. It will make me feel happier.” How can a label or name brand make someone feel happier? Think back to what you’ve learned about lifespan development . What is it about pre-teens and young teens that make them want to fit in ( [link] )? Does this change over time? Think back to your high school experience, or look around your college campus. What is the main name brand clothing you see? What messages do we get from the media about how to fit in?

A photograph shows a group of young people dressed similarly.

Young people struggle to become independent at the same time they are desperately trying to fit in with their peers. (credit: Monica Arellano-Ongpin)

Because of social roles, people tend to know what behavior is expected of them in specific, familiar settings. A script is a person’s knowledge about the sequence of events expected in a specific setting (Schank & Abelson, 1977). How do you act on the first day of school, when you walk into an elevator, or are at a restaurant? For example, at a restaurant in the United States, if we want the server’s attention, we try to make eye contact. In Brazil, you would make the sound “psst” to get the server’s attention. You can see the cultural differences in scripts. To an American, saying “psst” to a server might seem rude, yet to a Brazilian, trying to make eye contact might not seem an effective strategy. Scripts are important sources of information to guide behavior in given situations. Can you imagine being in an unfamiliar situation and not having a script for how to behave? This could be uncomfortable and confusing. How could you find out about social norms in an unfamiliar culture?

ZIMBARDO’S STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT

The famous Stanford prison experiment , conducted by social psychologist Philip Zimbardo and his colleagues at Stanford University, demonstrated the power of social roles, social norms, and scripts. In the summer of 1971, an advertisement was placed in a California newspaper asking for male volunteers to participate in a study about the psychological effects of prison life. More than 70 men volunteered, and these volunteers then underwent psychological testing to eliminate candidates who had underlying psychiatric issues, medical issues, or a history of crime or drug abuse. The pool of volunteers was whittled down to 24 healthy male college students. Each student was paid $15 per day and was randomly assigned to play the role of either a prisoner or a guard in the study. Based on what you have learned about research methods, why is it important that participants were randomly assigned?

A mock prison was constructed in the basement of the psychology building at Stanford. Participants assigned to play the role of prisoners were “arrested” at their homes by Palo Alto police officers, booked at a police station, and subsequently taken to the mock prison. The experiment was scheduled to run for several weeks. To the surprise of the researchers, both the “prisoners” and “guards” assumed their roles with zeal. In fact, on day 2, some of the prisoners revolted, and the guards quelled the rebellion by threatening the prisoners with night sticks. In a relatively short time, the guards came to harass the prisoners in an increasingly sadistic manner, through a complete lack of privacy, lack of basic comforts such as mattresses to sleep on, and through degrading chores and late-night counts.

The prisoners, in turn, began to show signs of severe anxiety and hopelessness—they began tolerating the guards’ abuse. Even the Stanford professor who designed the study and was the head researcher, Philip Zimbardo, found himself acting as if the prison was real and his role, as prison supervisor, was real as well. After only six days, the experiment had to be ended due to the participants’ deteriorating behavior. Zimbardo explained,

At this point it became clear that we had to end the study. We had created an overwhelmingly powerful situation—a situation in which prisoners were withdrawing and behaving in pathological ways, and in which some of the guards were behaving sadistically. Even the “good” guards felt helpless to intervene, and none of the guards quit while the study was in progress. Indeed, it should be noted that no guard ever came late for his shift, called in sick, left early, or demanded extra pay for overtime work. (Zimbardo, 2013)

The Stanford prison experiment demonstrated the power of social roles, norms, and scripts in affecting human behavior. The guards and prisoners enacted their social roles by engaging in behaviors appropriate to the roles: The guards gave orders and the prisoners followed orders. Social norms require guards to be authoritarian and prisoners to be submissive. When prisoners rebelled, they violated these social norms, which led to upheaval. The specific acts engaged by the guards and the prisoners derived from scripts. For example, guards degraded the prisoners by forcing them do push-ups and by removing all privacy. Prisoners rebelled by throwing pillows and trashing their cells. Some prisoners became so immersed in their roles that they exhibited symptoms of mental breakdown; however, according to Zimbardo, none of the participants suffered long term harm (Alexander, 2001).

The Stanford Prison Experiment has some parallels with the abuse of prisoners of war by U.S. Army troops and CIA personnel at the Abu Ghraib prison in 2003 and 2004. The offenses at Abu Ghraib were documented by photographs of the abuse, some taken by the abusers themselves ( [link] ).

A photograph shows a person standing on a box with arms held out. The person is covered in shawl-like attire and a full hood that covers the face completely.

Iraqi prisoners of war were abused by their American captors in Abu Ghraib prison, during the second Iraq war. (credit: United States Department of Defense)

Link to Learning

Visit this website to hear an NPR interview with Philip Zimbardo where he discusses the parallels between the Stanford prison experiment and the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Human behavior is largely influenced by our social roles, norms, and scripts. In order to know how to act in a given situation, we have shared cultural knowledge of how to behave depending on our role in society. Social norms dictate the behavior that is appropriate or inappropriate for each role. Each social role has scripts that help humans learn the sequence of appropriate behaviors in a given setting. The famous Stanford prison experiment is an example of how the power of the situation can dictate the social roles, norms, and scripts we follow in a given situation, even if this behavior is contrary to our typical behavior.

Self Check Questions

Critical thinking questions.

1. Why didn’t the “good” guards in the Stanford prison experiment object to other guards’ abusive behavior? Were the student prisoners simply weak people? Why didn’t they object to being abused?

2. Describe how social roles, social norms, and scripts were evident in the Stanford prison experiment. How can this experiment be applied to everyday life? Are there any more recent examples where people started fulfilling a role and became abusive?

Personal Application Questions

3. Try attending a religious service very different from your own and see how you feel and behave without knowing the appropriate script. Or, try attending an important, personal event that you have never attended before, such as a bar mitzvah (a coming-of-age ritual in Jewish culture), a quinceañera (in some Latin American cultures a party is given to a girl who is turning 15 years old), a wedding, a funeral, or a sporting event new to you, such as horse racing or bull riding. Observe and record your feelings and behaviors in this unfamiliar setting for which you lack the appropriate script. Do you silently observe the action, or do you ask another person for help interpreting the behaviors of people at the event? Describe in what ways your behavior would change if you were to attend a similar event in the future?

4. Name and describe at least three social roles you have adopted for yourself. Why did you adopt these roles? What are some roles that are expected of you, but that you try to resist?

1. The good guards were fulfilling their social roles and they did not object to other guards’ abusive behavior because of the power of the situation. In addition, the prison supervisor’s behavior sanctioned the guards’ negative treatment of prisoners. The prisoners were not weak people; they were recruited because they were healthy, mentally stable adults. The power of their social role influenced them to engage in subservient prisoner behavior. The script for prisoners is to accept abusive behavior from authority figures, especially for punishment, when they do not follow the rules.

2. Social roles were in play as each participant acted out behaviors appropriate to his role as prisoner, guard, or supervisor. Scripts determined the specific behaviors the guards and prisoners displayed, such as humiliation and passivity. The social norms of a prison environment sanctions abuse of prisoners since they have lost many of their human rights and became the property of the government. This experiment can be applied to other situations in which social norms, roles, and scripts dictate our behavior, such as in mob behavior. A more recent example of similar behavior was the abuse of prisoners by American soldiers who were working as prison guards at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

  • Psychology. Authored by : OpenStax College. Located at : http://cnx.org/contents/[email protected]:1/Psychology . License : CC BY: Attribution . License Terms : Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11629/latest/.
  • Facebook Icon
  • Twitter Icon

Drive-Away Dolls Is a Wonderfully Unimportant Romp

  • Back Issues

New issue out now. Subscribe to our print edition today.

Ethan Coen’s Drive-Away Dolls is a delightfully raucous lesbian road comedy. Don’t listen to the wet-blanket critics — this film is good news in dull times for American movies.

self presentation

Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan in Drive-Away Dolls . (Focus Features)

I really enjoyed Drive-Away Dolls, the new Ethan Coen film he made with his wife and editor, Tricia Cooke, instead of his usual filmmaking partner, his brother, Joel Coen. It’s a deliberately loose, raunchy romp about a pair of lesbian friends who go on a wild road trip from Philadelphia, to Tallahassee. Their vehicle is a rental “drive-away” car transported one way to a destination drop-off point. This one turns out to contain sinister-looking packages that seemingly belong to a couple of violent goons who are soon hot on their trail.

I admit I was biased in favor of Drive-Away Dolls. I love the Coen worldview, which involves an irreverent, darkly comedic outlook on life. Their favorite genres, judging by their entire film career, are screwball comedy and film noir, which are also my favorite genres.

And I’m also desperately sick of the dumb, lugubrious, ideologically nauseating state of American cinema. We see so many overlong, overproduced, stupid yet heavily self-serious films, a number of which are being celebrated this awards season. Tired superhero movies and bland, dishonest biopics are churned out ad nauseam.

In interviews publicizing Drive-Away Dolls , Ethan Coen expressed his own dismay at the current state of the movies. When asked if he and Cooke set out on purpose to make an “unimportant film,” he responded with this heart’s cry for our pious era:

There’s an underserved audience for unimportant movies, is our belief. God. Don’t you want to go to a movie? . . . [N]ot to name names — obviously, you’d never get us to — but important movies like the contemporary ones? God. Why? Why? Why?

However, it seems I was one of the few who were in the mood for a raucous, lively, throwback comedy like Drive-Away Dolls. It’s doing very badly with critics and the mainstream public. The box-office stats and Rotten Tomatoes scores bear out every fear Ethan Coen has indicated about the current state of moviegoing, especially his worry that people no longer seek out movies for regular old fun.

This is a shame, because Drive-Away Dolls features two delightful and charismatic up-and-coming actors in the lead roles. Margaret Qualley ( The Leftovers, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood ), born to be a star but still awaiting more widespread recognition, is wonderfully goofy, kinetic, and endearing as Jamie, a loquacious free-loving Texan whose exuberant sex life breaks up her relationship with her cop girlfriend Sukie (Beanie Feldstein) in the film’s first sequence. I should note here that the zany, explicit sex scenes are such a rarity in Coen films, they’re pretty startling. And I can imagine that a lot of hidebound Americans aren’t quite prepared for hot, hilarious lesbian love breaking out all over the screen.

Kicked out of the apartment she shared with Sukie, Jamie proposes an adventurous road trip to her uptight intellectual friend Marian (the hilarious Geraldine Viswanathan of Blockers ). Marian wants to visit her strongly religious aunt in Tallahassee in order to go birding, whereas Jamie’s plan is wacky diversions all the way, such as visiting the world’s largest Dixie Cup, plus plenty of evenings in louche lesbian bars in order to get Marian laid. This is a period film, in case you haven’t guessed, set back in 1999 and nostalgic for less obviously terrifying times politically than we have now. As well as an era when there were lesbian bars all over the landscape.

Marian is bringing along her copy of Henry James’s The Europeans on this road trip as her idea of entertainment. Coincidentally also reading The Europeans is the Chief (Colman Domingo), a silky-voiced, well-dressed criminal of elevated tastes trying to hold onto his patience as he commands the bumbling duo of goons, Arliss (Joey Slotnick) and Flint (C. J. Wilson), who are trying to recover the packages hidden in the trunk of Jamie and Marian’s rented Dodge Aries.

There are some nice laughs about the famously opaque inaccessibility of Henry James, with Jamie claiming having The Portrait of a Lady assigned in high school put her off reading for life.

But the broad themes of the novel are played out in the movie, which is typical of most impious yet erudite Coen films. The Europeans is about two worldly young people raised in Europe who visit their New England cousins and discover that, ironically, the “New World” tends to be more hidebound, traditional, and morally conservative than the Old. Yet the Old vs. New World cousins have something to offer each other — just encountering and negotiating their opposing sets of values is at least potentially liberating.

In Drive-Away Dolls, Jamie, the Chief, and Arliss are inclined to be “European” in various ways — the elegant self-presentation of the Chief, and Jamie and Arliss’s insistence on being more open to life and sexuality and a wider range of experiences. It’s especially funny to hear Arliss, Goon #1, try to persuade Flint, Goon #2, using therapy-speak about achieving more empathic human connections instead of automatically pulling his gun on people. Flint and Marian are more New England–ish in their rigidity and sexual angst, plus Marian labors under a heavier sense of moral duty.

Whereas Arliss and Flint will be negotiating the tensions in their relationship while armed to the teeth and trained to kill, which doesn’t bode well, Jamie and Marian have a better chance at finding a happy equilibrium. But all of this sophisticated thematic stuff is tossed off as lightly as the rest of the film. It signals its larkiness in every way, including riotous editing choices like twisting wipes, plus erratic psychedelic interludes of swirling neon colored imagery with Miley Cyrus, in a cameo performance as Tiffany Plaster Caster, writhing sexily.

Her role is an obscure reference to Cynthia Albritton, a 1960s artist known as Cynthia Plaster Caster, who gained fame for her plaster casts of the erect penises of various rock and roll celebrities such as Jimi Hendrix, Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks, and Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys. This kind of obscure but hilarious reference to lost American cultural figures is also typical of Coen films, but they never throw them away entirely carelessly. There’s a whole “who’s got the phallus” theme running through the film centering on a briefcase full of plaster casts made from the penises of men in power, including a supreme court judge, the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and right-wing Republican Senator Channel (Matt Damon), who’s running on a conservative family values ticket and desperately wants his dick back.

self presentation

Manohla Dargis of the New York Times claims that the Tiffany Plaster Caster interludes “amid lava-lamp swirls of colors, vivid lysergic bursts . . . only make the rest of the movie and its two leads seem all the more lackluster.”

But don’t listen to these wet-blanket critics. There’s something lackluster here all right, but it’s certainly not Drive-Away Dolls .

And even if this roughhouse comedy isn’t your style, the two leads are so funny and effervescent it’s downright insane to dismiss their high-spirited talent. Plus, the supporting cast is insanely great, featuring hilarious turns by Pedro Pascal and Bill Camp along with Domingo, Feldstein, and Damon.

The bizarre drubbing this film is taking is a wake-up call to American culture — lighten up and grow up, so you can watch funny lesbian sex scenes without flinching. Regardless of the bizarre drubbing this film is taking from critics, Coen and Cooke are going right ahead with their planned “lesbian B-movie trilogy,” of which Drive-Away Dolls is the first.

The second is called Honey Don’t and will also star Qualley, along with Aubrey Plaza and Chris Evans. Coen and Cooke are currently in Albuquerque, New Mexico, casting Honey Don’t and calling locals of all ages to apply for both speaking and nonspeaking roles, noting that “The look/tone of this film is gritty, grizzled, dusty, sunburnt, rural Bakersfield, CA.”

This is good news in dull times for American movies. Maybe three zany, laugh-filled, low-budget flicks in a row will create an audience for something a bit livelier at the multiplex.

Library homepage

  • school Campus Bookshelves
  • menu_book Bookshelves
  • perm_media Learning Objects
  • login Login
  • how_to_reg Request Instructor Account
  • hub Instructor Commons
  • Download Page (PDF)
  • Download Full Book (PDF)
  • Periodic Table
  • Physics Constants
  • Scientific Calculator
  • Reference & Cite
  • Tools expand_more
  • Readability

selected template will load here

This action is not available.

Social Sci LibreTexts

8.11: Self-Presentation, Attitudes, and Persuasion

  • Last updated
  • Save as PDF
  • Page ID 82885

Learning outcomes

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe social roles and how they influence behavior
  • Explain what social norms are and how they influence behavior
  • Define script
  • Describe the findings of Zimbardo’s Stanford prison experiment
  • Define attitude
  • Describe how people’s attitudes are internally changed through cognitive dissonance
  • Explain how people’s attitudes are externally changed through persuasion
  • Describe the peripheral and central routes to persuasion

Self-presentation

As you’ve learned, social psychology is the study of how people affect one another’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We have discussed situational perspectives and social psychology’s emphasis on the ways in which a person’s environment, including culture and other social influences, affect behavior. In this section, we examine situational forces that have a strong influence on human behavior including social roles, social norms, and scripts. We discuss how humans use the social environment as a source of information, or cues, on how to behave. Situational influences on our behavior have important consequences, such as whether we will help a stranger in an emergency or how we would behave in an unfamiliar environment.

SOCIAL ROLES

One major social determinant of human behavior is our social roles. A social role is a pattern of behavior that is expected of a person in a given setting or group (Hare, 2003). Each one of us has several social roles. You may be, at the same time, a student, a parent, an aspiring teacher, a son or daughter, a spouse, and a lifeguard. How do these social roles influence your behavior? Social roles are defined by culturally shared knowledge. That is, nearly everyone in a given culture knows what behavior is expected of a person in a given role. For example, what is the social role for a student? If you look around a college classroom you will likely see students engaging in studious behavior, taking notes, listening to the professor, reading the textbook, and sitting quietly at their desks ( Figure ). Of course you may see students deviating from the expected studious behavior such as texting on their phones or using Facebook on their laptops, but in all cases, the students that you observe are attending class—a part of the social role of students.

A photograph shows students in a classroom.

Social roles, and our related behavior, can vary across different settings. How do you behave when you are engaging in the role of son or daughter and attending a family function? Now imagine how you behave when you are engaged in the role of employee at your workplace. It is very likely that your behavior will be different. Perhaps you are more relaxed and outgoing with your family, making jokes and doing silly things. But at your workplace you might speak more professionally, and although you may be friendly, you are also serious and focused on getting the work completed. These are examples of how our social roles influence and often dictate our behavior to the extent that identity and personality can vary with context (that is, in different social groups) (Malloy, Albright, Kenny, Agatstein & Winquist, 1997).

SOCIAL NORMS

As discussed previously, social roles are defined by a culture’s shared knowledge of what is expected behavior of an individual in a specific role. This shared knowledge comes from social norms. A social norm is a group’s expectation of what is appropriate and acceptable behavior for its members—how they are supposed to behave and think (Deutsch & Gerard, 1955; Berkowitz, 2004). How are we expected to act? What are we expected to talk about? What are we expected to wear? In our discussion of social roles we noted that colleges have social norms for students’ behavior in the role of student and workplaces have social norms for employees’ behaviors in the role of employee. Social norms are everywhere including in families, gangs, and on social media outlets. What are some social norms on Facebook?

My 11-year-old daughter, Jessica, recently told me she needed shorts and shirts for the summer, and that she wanted me to take her to a store at the mall that is popular with preteens and teens to buy them. I have noticed that many girls have clothes from that store, so I tried teasing her. I said, “All the shirts say ‘Aero’ on the front. If you are wearing a shirt like that and you have a substitute teacher, and the other girls are all wearing that type of shirt, won’t the substitute teacher think you are all named ‘Aero’?”

My daughter replied, in typical 11-year-old fashion, “Mom, you are not funny. Can we please go shopping?”

I tried a different tactic. I asked Jessica if having clothing from that particular store will make her popular. She replied, “No, it will not make me popular. It is what the popular kids wear. It will make me feel happier.” How can a label or name brand make someone feel happier? Think back to what you’ve learned about  lifespan development . What is it about pre-teens and young teens that make them want to fit in ( Figure )? Does this change over time? Think back to your high school experience, or look around your college campus. What is the main name brand clothing you see? What messages do we get from the media about how to fit in?

A photograph shows a group of young people dressed similarly.

Because of social roles, people tend to know what behavior is expected of them in specific, familiar settings. A script is a person’s knowledge about the sequence of events expected in a specific setting (Schank & Abelson, 1977). How do you act on the first day of school, when you walk into an elevator, or are at a restaurant? For example, at a restaurant in the United States, if we want the server’s attention, we try to make eye contact. In Brazil, you would make the sound “psst” to get the server’s attention. You can see the cultural differences in scripts. To an American, saying “psst” to a server might seem rude, yet to a Brazilian, trying to make eye contact might not seem an effective strategy. Scripts are important sources of information to guide behavior in given situations. Can you imagine being in an unfamiliar situation and not having a script for how to behave? This could be uncomfortable and confusing. How could you find out about social norms in an unfamiliar culture?

ZIMBARDO’S STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT

The famous Stanford prison experiment, conducted by social psychologist Philip  Zimbardo  and his colleagues at Stanford University, demonstrated the power of social roles, social norms, and scripts. In the summer of 1971, an advertisement was placed in a California newspaper asking for male volunteers to participate in a study about the psychological effects of prison life. More than 70 men volunteered, and these volunteers then underwent psychological testing to eliminate candidates who had underlying psychiatric issues, medical issues, or a history of crime or drug abuse. The pool of volunteers was whittled down to 24 healthy male college students. Each student was paid $15 per day and was randomly assigned to play the role of either a prisoner or a guard in the study. Based on what you have learned about research methods, why is it important that participants were randomly assigned?

A mock prison was constructed in the basement of the psychology building at Stanford. Participants assigned to play the role of prisoners were “arrested” at their homes by Palo Alto police officers, booked at a police station, and subsequently taken to the mock prison. The experiment was scheduled to run for several weeks. To the surprise of the researchers, both the “prisoners” and “guards” assumed their roles with zeal. In fact, on day 2, some of the prisoners revolted, and the guards quelled the rebellion by threatening the prisoners with night sticks. In a relatively short time, the guards came to harass the prisoners in an increasingly sadistic manner, through a complete lack of privacy, lack of basic comforts such as mattresses to sleep on, and through degrading chores and late-night counts.

The prisoners, in turn, began to show signs of severe anxiety and hopelessness—they began tolerating the guards’ abuse. Even the Stanford professor who designed the study and was the head researcher, Philip Zimbardo, found himself acting as if the prison was real and his role, as prison supervisor, was real as well. After only six days, the experiment had to be ended due to the participants’ deteriorating behavior. Zimbardo explained,

At this point it became clear that we had to end the study. We had created an overwhelmingly powerful situation—a situation in which prisoners were withdrawing and behaving in pathological ways, and in which some of the guards were behaving sadistically. Even the “good” guards felt helpless to intervene, and none of the guards quit while the study was in progress. Indeed, it should be noted that no guard ever came late for his shift, called in sick, left early, or demanded extra pay for overtime work. (Zimbardo, 2013)

The Stanford prison experiment demonstrated the power of social roles, norms, and scripts in affecting human behavior. The guards and prisoners enacted their social roles by engaging in behaviors appropriate to the roles: The guards gave orders and the prisoners followed orders. Social norms require guards to be authoritarian and prisoners to be submissive. When prisoners rebelled, they violated these social norms, which led to upheaval. The specific acts engaged by the guards and the prisoners derived from scripts. For example, guards degraded the prisoners by forcing them do push-ups and by removing all privacy. Prisoners rebelled by throwing pillows and trashing their cells. Some prisoners became so immersed in their roles that they exhibited symptoms of mental breakdown; however, according to Zimbardo, none of the participants suffered long term harm (Alexander, 2001).

The Stanford Prison Experiment has some parallels with the abuse of prisoners of war by U.S. Army troops and CIA personnel at the Abu Ghraib prison in 2003 and 2004. The offenses at Abu  Ghraib  were documented by photographs of the abuse, some taken by the abusers themselves ( Figure ).

A photograph shows a person standing on a box with arms held out. The person is covered in shawl-like attire and a full hood that covers the face completely.

Visit this  website  to hear an NPR interview with Philip  Zimbardo  where he discusses the parallels between the Stanford prison experiment and the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Human behavior is largely influenced by our social roles, norms, and scripts. In order to know how to act in a given situation, we have shared cultural knowledge of how to behave depending on our role in society. Social norms dictate the behavior that is appropriate or inappropriate for each role. Each social role has scripts that help humans learn the sequence of appropriate behaviors in a given setting. The famous Stanford prison experiment is an example of how the power of the situation can dictate the social roles, norms, and scripts we follow in a given situation, even if this behavior is contrary to our typical behavior.

Review Questions

A(n) ________ is a set of group expectations for appropriate thoughts and behaviors of its members.

  • social role
  • social norm
  • attribution

On his first day of soccer practice, Jose suits up in a t-shirt, shorts, and cleats and runs out to the field to join his teammates. Jose’s behavior is reflective of ________.

  • social influence
  • good athletic behavior
  • normative behavior

When it comes to buying clothes, teenagers often follow social norms; this is likely motivated by ________.

  • following parents’ rules
  • saving money
  • looking good

In the Stanford prison experiment, even the lead researcher succumbed to his role as a prison supervisor. This is an example of the power of ________ influencing behavior.

  • social norms
  • social roles

Critical Thinking Questions

Why didn’t the “good” guards in the Stanford prison experiment object to other guards’ abusive behavior? Were the student prisoners simply weak people? Why didn’t they object to being abused?

Describe how social roles, social norms, and scripts were evident in the Stanford prison experiment. How can this experiment be applied to everyday life? Are there any more recent examples where people started fulfilling a role and became abusive?

Personal Application Questions

Try attending a religious service very different from your own and see how you feel and behave without knowing the appropriate script. Or, try attending an important, personal event that you have never attended before, such as a bar mitzvah (a coming-of-age ritual in Jewish culture), a quinceañera (in some Latin American cultures a party is given to a girl who is turning 15 years old), a wedding, a funeral, or a sporting event new to you, such as horse racing or bull riding. Observe and record your feelings and behaviors in this unfamiliar setting for which you lack the appropriate script. Do you silently observe the action, or do you ask another person for help interpreting the behaviors of people at the event? Describe in what ways your behavior would change if you were to attend a similar event in the future?

Name and describe at least three social roles you have adopted for yourself. Why did you adopt these roles? What are some roles that are expected of you, but that you try to resist?

Attitudes and Persuasion

Social psychologists have documented how the power of the situation can influence our behaviors. Now we turn to how the power of the situation can influence our attitudes and beliefs. Attitude is our evaluation of a person, an idea, or an object. We have attitudes for many things ranging from products that we might pick up in the supermarket to people around the world to political policies. Typically, attitudes are favorable or unfavorable: positive or negative (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993). And, they have three components: an affective component (feelings), a behavioral component (the effect of the attitude on behavior), and a cognitive component (belief and knowledge) (Rosenberg & Hovland, 1960).

For example, you may hold a positive attitude toward recycling. This attitude should result in positive feelings toward recycling (such as “It makes me feel good to recycle” or “I enjoy knowing that I make a small difference in reducing the amount of waste that ends up in landfills”). Certainly, this attitude should be reflected in our behavior: You actually recycle as often as you can. Finally, this attitude will be reflected in favorable thoughts (for example, “Recycling is good for the environment” or “Recycling is the responsible thing to do”).

Our attitudes and beliefs are not only influenced by external forces, but also by internal influences that we control. Like our behavior, our attitudes and thoughts are not always changed by situational pressures, but they can be consciously changed by our own free will. In this section we discuss the conditions under which we would want to change our own attitudes and beliefs.

WHAT IS COGNITIVE DISSONANCE?

Social psychologists have documented that feeling good about ourselves and maintaining positive self-esteem is a powerful motivator of human behavior (Tavris & Aronson, 2008). In the United States, members of the predominant culture typically think very highly of themselves and view themselves as good people who are above average on many desirable traits (Ehrlinger, Gilovich, & Ross, 2005). Often, our behavior, attitudes, and beliefs are affected when we experience a threat to our self-esteem or positive self-image. Psychologist Leon Festinger (1957) defined cognitive dissonance as psychological discomfort arising from holding two or more inconsistent attitudes, behaviors, or cognitions (thoughts, beliefs, or opinions). Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance states that when we experience a conflict in our behaviors, attitudes, or beliefs that runs counter to our positive self-perceptions, we experience psychological discomfort (dissonance). For example, if you believe smoking is bad for your health but you continue to smoke, you experience conflict between your belief and behavior ( Figure ).

A diagram shows the process of cognitive dissonance. Two disparate statements (“I am a smoker” and “Smoking is bad for your health”) are joined as an example of cognitive dissonance. A flow diagram joins them in a process labeled, “Remove dissonance tension,” with two resulting flows. The first flow path shows the warning on a pack of cigarettes with a checkmark imposed over the image that is labeled, “Smoking is bad for your health.” The path then shows a photograph of an arm with a nicotine patch that is labeled, “I quit smoking.” The second flow path shows the warning on a pack of cigarettes with an X imposed over the image and is labeled, “Research is inconclusive,” then shows a photograph of a person smoking labeled, “I am still a smoker.”

Later research documented that only conflicting cognitions that threaten individuals’ positive self-image cause dissonance (Greenwald & Ronis, 1978). Additional research found that dissonance is not only psychologically uncomfortable but also can cause physiological arousal (Croyle & Cooper, 1983) and activate regions of the brain important in emotions and cognitive functioning (van Veen, Krug, Schooler, & Carter, 2009). When we experience cognitive dissonance, we are motivated to decrease it because it is psychologically, physically, and mentally uncomfortable. We can reduce  cognitive dissonance  by bringing our cognitions, attitudes, and behaviors in line—that is, making them harmonious. This can be done in different ways, such as:

  • changing our discrepant behavior (e.g., stop smoking),
  • changing our cognitions through rationalization or denial (e.g., telling ourselves that health risks can be reduced by smoking filtered cigarettes),
  • adding a new cognition (e.g., “Smoking suppresses my appetite so I don’t become overweight, which is good for my health.”).

A classic example of cognitive dissonance is John, a 20-year-old who enlists in the military. During boot camp he is awakened at 5:00 a.m., is chronically sleep deprived, yelled at, covered in sand flea bites, physically bruised and battered, and mentally exhausted ( Figure ). It gets worse. Recruits that make it to week 11 of boot camp have to do 54 hours of continuous training.

A photograph shows a person doing pushups while a military leader stands over the person; other people are doing jumping jacks in the background.

Not surprisingly, John is miserable. No one likes to be miserable. In this type of situation, people can change their beliefs, their attitudes, or their behaviors. The last option, a change of behaviors, is not available to John. He has signed on to the military for four years, and he cannot legally leave.

If John keeps thinking about how miserable he is, it is going to be a very long four years. He will be in a constant state of cognitive dissonance. As an alternative to this misery, John can change his beliefs or attitudes. He can tell himself, “I am becoming stronger, healthier, and sharper. I am learning discipline and how to defend myself and my country. What I am doing is really important.” If this is his belief, he will realize that he is becoming stronger through his challenges. He then will feel better and not experience cognitive dissonance, which is an uncomfortable state.

The Effect of Initiation

The military example demonstrates the observation that a difficult  initiation  into a group influences us to like the group  more , due to the justification of effort. We do not want to have wasted time and effort to join a group that we eventually leave. A classic experiment by Aronson and Mills (1959) demonstrated this justification of effort effect. College students volunteered to join a campus group that would meet regularly to discuss the psychology of sex. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: no initiation, an easy initiation, and a difficult initiation into the group. After participating in the first discussion, which was deliberately made very boring, participants rated how much they liked the group. Participants who underwent a difficult initiation process to join the group rated the group more favorably than did participants with an easy initiation or no initiation ( Figure ).

A bar graph has an x-axis labeled, “Difficulty of initiation” and a y-axis labeled, “Relative magnitude of liking a group.” The liking of the group is low to moderate for the groups whose difficulty of initiation was “none” or “easy,” but high for the group whose difficulty of initiation was “difficult.”

Similar effects can be seen in a more recent study of how student effort affects course evaluations. Heckert, Latier, Ringwald-Burton, and Drazen (2006) surveyed 463 undergraduates enrolled in courses at a midwestern university about the amount of effort that their courses required of them. In addition, the students were also asked to evaluate various aspects of the course. Given what you’ve just read, it will come as no surprise that those courses that were associated with the highest level of effort were evaluated as being more valuable than those that did not. Furthermore, students indicated that they learned more in courses that required more effort, regardless of the grades that they received in those courses (Heckert et al., 2006).

Besides the classic military example and group initiation, can you think of other examples of  cognitive dissonance ? Here is one: Marco and Maria live in Fairfield County, Connecticut, which is one of the wealthiest areas in the United States and has a very high cost of living. Marco telecommutes from home and Maria does not work outside of the home. They rent a very small house for more than $3000 a month. Maria shops at consignment stores for clothes and economizes where she can. They complain that they never have any money and that they cannot buy anything new. When asked why they do not move to a less expensive location, since Marco telecommutes, they respond that Fairfield County is beautiful, they love the beaches, and they feel comfortable there. How does the theory of cognitive dissonance apply to Marco and Maria’s choices?

In the previous section we discussed that the motivation to reduce cognitive dissonance leads us to change our attitudes, behaviors, and/or cognitions to make them consonant. Persuasion is the process of changing our attitude toward something based on some kind of communication. Much of the persuasion we experience comes from outside forces. How do people convince others to change their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors ( Figure )? What communications do you receive that attempt to persuade you to change your attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors?

A photograph shows the back of a car that is covered in numerous bumper stickers.

A subfield of social psychology studies persuasion and social influence, providing us with a plethora of information on how humans can be persuaded by others.

Yale Attitude Change Approach

The topic of persuasion has been one of the most extensively researched areas in social psychology (Fiske et al., 2010). During the Second World War, Carl  Hovland  extensively researched persuasion for the U.S. Army. After the war, Hovland continued his exploration of persuasion at Yale University. Out of this work came a model called the  Yale attitude change approach , which describes the conditions under which people tend to change their attitudes. Hovland demonstrated that certain features of the source of a persuasive message, the content of the message, and the characteristics of the audience will influence the persuasiveness of a message (Hovland, Janis, & Kelley, 1953).

Features of the source of the persuasive message include the credibility of the speaker (Hovland & Weiss, 1951) and the physical attractiveness of the speaker (Eagly & Chaiken, 1975; Petty, Wegener, & Fabrigar, 1997). Thus, speakers who are credible, or have expertise on the topic, and who are deemed as trustworthy are more persuasive than less credible speakers. Similarly, more attractive speakers are more persuasive than less attractive speakers. The use of famous actors and athletes to advertise products on television and in print relies on this principle. The immediate and long term impact of the persuasion also depends, however, on the credibility of the messenger (Kumkale & Albarracín, 2004).

Features of the message itself that affect persuasion include subtlety (the quality of being important, but not obvious) (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986; Walster & Festinger, 1962); sidedness (that is, having more than one side) (Crowley & Hoyer, 1994; Igou & Bless, 2003; Lumsdaine & Janis, 1953); timing (Haugtvedt & Wegener, 1994; Miller & Campbell, 1959), and whether both sides are presented. Messages that are more subtle are more persuasive than direct messages. Arguments that occur first, such as in a debate, are more influential if messages are given back-to-back. However, if there is a delay after the first message, and before the audience needs to make a decision, the last message presented will tend to be more persuasive (Miller & Campbell, 1959).

Features of the audience that affect persuasion are attention (Albarracín & Wyer, 2001; Festinger & Maccoby, 1964), intelligence, self-esteem (Rhodes & Wood, 1992), and age (Krosnick & Alwin, 1989). In order to be persuaded, audience members must be paying attention. People with lower intelligence are more easily persuaded than people with higher intelligence; whereas people with moderate self-esteem are more easily persuaded than people with higher or lower self-esteem (Rhodes & Wood, 1992). Finally, younger adults aged 18–25 are more persuadable than older adults.

Elaboration Likelihood Model

An especially popular model that describes the dynamics of persuasion is the elaboration likelihood model of persuasion (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). The  elaboration likelihood model  considers the variables of the attitude change approach—that is, features of the source of the persuasive message, contents of the message, and characteristics of the audience are used to determine when attitude change will occur. According to the elaboration likelihood model of persuasion, there are two main routes that play a role in delivering a persuasive message: central and peripheral ( Figure ).

A diagram shows two routes of persuasion. A box on the left is labeled “persuasive message” and arrows from the box separate into two routes: the central and peripheral routes, each with boxes describing the characteristics of the audience, processing, and persuasion. The audience is “motivated, analytical” in the central route, and “not motivated, not analytical” in the peripheral route. Processing in the central route is “high effort; evaluate message” and in the peripheral route is “low effort; persuaded by cues outside of message.” Persuasion in the central route is “lasting change in attitude” and in the peripheral route is “temporary change in attitude.”

The central route is logic driven and uses data and facts to convince people of an argument’s worthiness. For example, a car company seeking to persuade you to purchase their model will emphasize the car’s safety features and fuel economy. This is a direct route to persuasion that focuses on the quality of the information. In order for the central route of persuasion to be effective in changing attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors, the argument must be strong and, if successful, will result in lasting attitude change.

The central route to persuasion works best when the target of persuasion, or the audience, is analytical and willing to engage in processing of the information. From an advertiser’s perspective, what products would be best sold using the central route to persuasion? What audience would most likely be influenced to buy the product? One example is buying a computer. It is likely, for example, that small business owners might be especially influenced by the focus on the computer’s quality and features such as processing speed and memory capacity.

The peripheral route is an indirect route that uses peripheral cues to associate positivity with the message (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). Instead of focusing on the facts and a product’s quality, the peripheral route relies on association with positive characteristics such as positive emotions and celebrity endorsement. For example, having a popular athlete advertise athletic shoes is a common method used to encourage young adults to purchase the shoes. This route to attitude change does not require much effort or information processing. This method of persuasion may promote positivity toward the message or product, but it typically results in less permanent attitude or behavior change. The audience does not need to be analytical or motivated to process the message. In fact, a peripheral route to persuasion may not even be noticed by the audience, for example in the strategy of product placement. Product placement refers to putting a product with a clear brand name or brand identity in a TV show or movie to promote the product (Gupta & Lord, 1998). For example, one season of the reality series  American Idol prominently showed the panel of judges drinking out of cups that displayed the Coca-Cola logo. What other products would be best sold using the peripheral route to persuasion? Another example is clothing: A retailer may focus on celebrities that are wearing the same style of clothing.

Foot-in-the-door Technique

Researchers have tested many persuasion strategies that are effective in selling products and changing people’s attitude, ideas, and behaviors. One effective strategy is the foot-in-the-door technique (Cialdini, 2001; Pliner, Hart, Kohl, & Saari, 1974). Using the foot-in-the-door technique, the persuader gets a person to agree to bestow a small favor or to buy a small item, only to later request a larger favor or purchase of a bigger item. The foot-in-the-door technique was demonstrated in a study by Freedman and Fraser (1966) in which participants who agreed to post small sign in their yard or sign a petition were more likely to agree to put a large sign in their yard than people who declined the first request ( Figure ). Research on this technique also illustrates the principle of consistency (Cialdini, 2001): Our past behavior often directs our future behavior, and we have a desire to maintain consistency once we have a committed to a behavior.

Photograph A shows a campaign button. Photograph B shows a yard filled with numerous signs.

A common application of foot-in-the-door is when teens ask their parents for a small permission (for example, extending curfew by a half hour) and then asking them for something larger. Having granted the smaller request increases the likelihood that parents will acquiesce with the later, larger request.

How would a store owner use the foot-in-the-door technique to sell you an expensive product? For example, say that you are buying the latest model smartphone, and the salesperson suggests you purchase the best data plan. You agree to this. The salesperson then suggests a bigger purchase—the three-year extended warranty. After agreeing to the smaller request, you are more likely to also agree to the larger request. You may have encountered this if you have bought a car. When salespeople realize that a buyer intends to purchase a certain model, they might try to get the customer to pay for many or most available options on the car.

Attitudes are our evaluations or feelings toward a person, idea, or object and typically are positive or negative. Our attitudes and beliefs are influenced not only by external forces, but also by internal influences that we control. An internal form of attitude change is cognitive dissonance or the tension we experience when our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are in conflict. In order to reduce dissonance, individuals can change their behavior, attitudes, or cognitions, or add a new cognition. External forces of persuasion include advertising; the features of advertising that influence our behaviors include the source, message, and audience. There are two primary routes to persuasion. The central route to persuasion uses facts and information to persuade potential consumers. The peripheral route uses positive association with cues such as beauty, fame, and positive emotions.

Attitudes describe our ________ of people, objects, and ideas.

  • evaluations

Cognitive dissonance causes discomfort because it disrupts our sense of ________.

  • unpredictability
  • consistency

In order for the central route to persuasion to be effective, the audience must be ________ and ________.

  • analytical; motivated
  • attentive; happy
  • intelligent; unemotional
  • gullible; distracted

Examples of cues used in peripheral route persuasion include all of the following  except

  • celebrity endorsement
  • positive emotions
  • attractive models
  • factual information

Give an example (one  not  used in class or your text) of cognitive dissonance and how an individual might resolve this.

Imagine that you work for an advertising agency, and you’ve been tasked with developing an advertising campaign to increase sales of Bliss Soda. How would you develop an advertisement for this product that uses a central route of persuasion? How would you develop an ad using a peripheral route of persuasion?

Cognitive dissonance often arises after making an important decision, called post-decision dissonance (or in popular terms, buyer’s remorse). Describe a recent decision you made that caused dissonance and describe how you resolved it.

Describe a time when you or someone you know used the foot-in-the-door technique to gain someone’s compliance.

[glossary-page] [glossary-term]attitude:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]evaluations of or feelings toward a person, idea, or object that are typically positive or negative[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]central route persuasion:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]logic-driven arguments using data and facts to convince people of an argument’s worthiness[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]cognitive dissonance:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]psychological discomfort that arises from a conflict in a person’s behaviors, attitudes, or beliefs that runs counter to one’s positive self-perception[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]foot-in-the-door technique:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]persuasion of one person by another person, encouraging a person to agree to a small favor, or to buy a small item, only to later request a larger favor or purchase of a larger item[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]peripheral route persuasion:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]one person persuades another person; an indirect route that relies on association of peripheral cues (such as positive emotions and celebrity endorsement) to associate positivity with a message[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]persuasion:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]process of changing our attitude toward something based on some form of communication[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]script:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]person’s knowledge about the sequence of events in a specific setting[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]social norm:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]group’s expectations regarding what is appropriate and acceptable for the thoughts and behavior of its members[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]social role:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]socially defined pattern of behavior that is expected of a person in a given setting or group[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]stanford prison experiment:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]Stanford University conducted an experiment in a mock prison that demonstrated the power of social roles, social norms, and scripts[/glossary-definition] [/glossary-page]

  • Self-presentation. Provided by : OpenStax CNX. Located at : https://cnx.org/contents/[email protected]:o-J4fhDB@3/Self-presentation . License : CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike
  • Attitudes and Persuasion. Provided by : OpenStax CNX. Located at : https://cnx.org/contents/[email protected]:MBKbyrYC@3/Attitudes-and-Persuasion . License : CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike

Logo for Florida State College at Jacksonville Pressbooks

Want to create or adapt books like this? Learn more about how Pressbooks supports open publishing practices.

68 Self-Presentation, Attitudes, and Persuasion

Learning outcomes.

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe social roles and how they influence behavior
  • Explain what social norms are and how they influence behavior
  • Define script
  • Describe the findings of Zimbardo’s Stanford prison experiment
  • Define attitude
  • Describe how people’s attitudes are internally changed through cognitive dissonance
  • Explain how people’s attitudes are externally changed through persuasion
  • Describe the peripheral and central routes to persuasion

Self-presentation

As you’ve learned, social psychology is the study of how people affect one another’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We have discussed situational perspectives and social psychology’s emphasis on the ways in which a person’s environment, including culture and other social influences, affect behavior. In this section, we examine situational forces that have a strong influence on human behavior including social roles, social norms, and scripts. We discuss how humans use the social environment as a source of information, or cues, on how to behave. Situational influences on our behavior have important consequences, such as whether we will help a stranger in an emergency or how we would behave in an unfamiliar environment.

SOCIAL ROLES

One major social determinant of human behavior is our social roles. A  social role  is a pattern of behavior that is expected of a person in a given setting or group (Hare, 2003). Each one of us has several social roles. You may be, at the same time, a student, a parent, an aspiring teacher, a son or daughter, a spouse, and a lifeguard. How do these social roles influence your behavior? Social roles are defined by culturally shared knowledge. That is, nearly everyone in a given culture knows what behavior is expected of a person in a given role. For example, what is the social role for a student? If you look around a college classroom you will likely see students engaging in studious behavior, taking notes, listening to the professor, reading the textbook, and sitting quietly at their desks ( Figure ). Of course you may see students deviating from the expected studious behavior such as texting on their phones or using Facebook on their laptops, but in all cases, the students that you observe are attending class—a part of the social role of students.

A photograph shows students in a classroom.

Social roles, and our related behavior, can vary across different settings. How do you behave when you are engaging in the role of son or daughter and attending a family function? Now imagine how you behave when you are engaged in the role of employee at your workplace. It is very likely that your behavior will be different. Perhaps you are more relaxed and outgoing with your family, making jokes and doing silly things. But at your workplace you might speak more professionally, and although you may be friendly, you are also serious and focused on getting the work completed. These are examples of how our social roles influence and often dictate our behavior to the extent that identity and personality can vary with context (that is, in different social groups) (Malloy, Albright, Kenny, Agatstein & Winquist, 1997).

SOCIAL NORMS

As discussed previously, social roles are defined by a culture’s shared knowledge of what is expected behavior of an individual in a specific role. This shared knowledge comes from social norms. A  social norm  is a group’s expectation of what is appropriate and acceptable behavior for its members—how they are supposed to behave and think (Deutsch & Gerard, 1955; Berkowitz, 2004). How are we expected to act? What are we expected to talk about? What are we expected to wear? In our discussion of social roles we noted that colleges have social norms for students’ behavior in the role of student and workplaces have social norms for employees’ behaviors in the role of employee. Social norms are everywhere including in families, gangs, and on social media outlets. What are some social norms on Facebook?

My 11-year-old daughter, Jessica, recently told me she needed shorts and shirts for the summer, and that she wanted me to take her to a store at the mall that is popular with preteens and teens to buy them. I have noticed that many girls have clothes from that store, so I tried teasing her. I said, “All the shirts say ‘Aero’ on the front. If you are wearing a shirt like that and you have a substitute teacher, and the other girls are all wearing that type of shirt, won’t the substitute teacher think you are all named ‘Aero’?”

My daughter replied, in typical 11-year-old fashion, “Mom, you are not funny. Can we please go shopping?”

I tried a different tactic. I asked Jessica if having clothing from that particular store will make her popular. She replied, “No, it will not make me popular. It is what the popular kids wear. It will make me feel happier.” How can a label or name brand make someone feel happier? Think back to what you’ve learned about  lifespan development . What is it about pre-teens and young teens that make them want to fit in ( Figure )? Does this change over time? Think back to your high school experience, or look around your college campus. What is the main name brand clothing you see? What messages do we get from the media about how to fit in?

A photograph shows a group of young people dressed similarly.

Because of social roles, people tend to know what behavior is expected of them in specific, familiar settings. A  script  is a person’s knowledge about the sequence of events expected in a specific setting (Schank & Abelson, 1977). How do you act on the first day of school, when you walk into an elevator, or are at a restaurant? For example, at a restaurant in the United States, if we want the server’s attention, we try to make eye contact. In Brazil, you would make the sound “psst” to get the server’s attention. You can see the cultural differences in scripts. To an American, saying “psst” to a server might seem rude, yet to a Brazilian, trying to make eye contact might not seem an effective strategy. Scripts are important sources of information to guide behavior in given situations. Can you imagine being in an unfamiliar situation and not having a script for how to behave? This could be uncomfortable and confusing. How could you find out about social norms in an unfamiliar culture?

ZIMBARDO’S STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT

The famous  Stanford prison experiment , conducted by social psychologist Philip  Zimbardo  and his colleagues at Stanford University, demonstrated the power of social roles, social norms, and scripts. In the summer of 1971, an advertisement was placed in a California newspaper asking for male volunteers to participate in a study about the psychological effects of prison life. More than 70 men volunteered, and these volunteers then underwent psychological testing to eliminate candidates who had underlying psychiatric issues, medical issues, or a history of crime or drug abuse. The pool of volunteers was whittled down to 24 healthy male college students. Each student was paid $15 per day and was randomly assigned to play the role of either a prisoner or a guard in the study. Based on what you have learned about research methods, why is it important that participants were randomly assigned?

A mock prison was constructed in the basement of the psychology building at Stanford. Participants assigned to play the role of prisoners were “arrested” at their homes by Palo Alto police officers, booked at a police station, and subsequently taken to the mock prison. The experiment was scheduled to run for several weeks. To the surprise of the researchers, both the “prisoners” and “guards” assumed their roles with zeal. In fact, on day 2, some of the prisoners revolted, and the guards quelled the rebellion by threatening the prisoners with night sticks. In a relatively short time, the guards came to harass the prisoners in an increasingly sadistic manner, through a complete lack of privacy, lack of basic comforts such as mattresses to sleep on, and through degrading chores and late-night counts.

The prisoners, in turn, began to show signs of severe anxiety and hopelessness—they began tolerating the guards’ abuse. Even the Stanford professor who designed the study and was the head researcher, Philip Zimbardo, found himself acting as if the prison was real and his role, as prison supervisor, was real as well. After only six days, the experiment had to be ended due to the participants’ deteriorating behavior. Zimbardo explained,

At this point it became clear that we had to end the study. We had created an overwhelmingly powerful situation—a situation in which prisoners were withdrawing and behaving in pathological ways, and in which some of the guards were behaving sadistically. Even the “good” guards felt helpless to intervene, and none of the guards quit while the study was in progress. Indeed, it should be noted that no guard ever came late for his shift, called in sick, left early, or demanded extra pay for overtime work. (Zimbardo, 2013)

The Stanford prison experiment demonstrated the power of social roles, norms, and scripts in affecting human behavior. The guards and prisoners enacted their social roles by engaging in behaviors appropriate to the roles: The guards gave orders and the prisoners followed orders. Social norms require guards to be authoritarian and prisoners to be submissive. When prisoners rebelled, they violated these social norms, which led to upheaval. The specific acts engaged by the guards and the prisoners derived from scripts. For example, guards degraded the prisoners by forcing them do push-ups and by removing all privacy. Prisoners rebelled by throwing pillows and trashing their cells. Some prisoners became so immersed in their roles that they exhibited symptoms of mental breakdown; however, according to Zimbardo, none of the participants suffered long term harm (Alexander, 2001).

The Stanford Prison Experiment has some parallels with the abuse of prisoners of war by U.S. Army troops and CIA personnel at the Abu Ghraib prison in 2003 and 2004. The offenses at Abu  Ghraib  were documented by photographs of the abuse, some taken by the abusers themselves ( Figure ).

A photograph shows a person standing on a box with arms held out. The person is covered in shawl-like attire and a full hood that covers the face completely.

Visit this  website  to hear an NPR interview with Philip  Zimbardo  where he discusses the parallels between the Stanford prison experiment and the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Human behavior is largely influenced by our social roles, norms, and scripts. In order to know how to act in a given situation, we have shared cultural knowledge of how to behave depending on our role in society. Social norms dictate the behavior that is appropriate or inappropriate for each role. Each social role has scripts that help humans learn the sequence of appropriate behaviors in a given setting. The famous Stanford prison experiment is an example of how the power of the situation can dictate the social roles, norms, and scripts we follow in a given situation, even if this behavior is contrary to our typical behavior.

Review Questions

A(n) ________ is a set of group expectations for appropriate thoughts and behaviors of its members.

  • social role
  • social norm
  • attribution

On his first day of soccer practice, Jose suits up in a t-shirt, shorts, and cleats and runs out to the field to join his teammates. Jose’s behavior is reflective of ________.

  • social influence
  • good athletic behavior
  • normative behavior

When it comes to buying clothes, teenagers often follow social norms; this is likely motivated by ________.

  • following parents’ rules
  • saving money
  • looking good

In the Stanford prison experiment, even the lead researcher succumbed to his role as a prison supervisor. This is an example of the power of ________ influencing behavior.

  • social norms
  • social roles

Critical Thinking Questions

Why didn’t the “good” guards in the Stanford prison experiment object to other guards’ abusive behavior? Were the student prisoners simply weak people? Why didn’t they object to being abused?

Describe how social roles, social norms, and scripts were evident in the Stanford prison experiment. How can this experiment be applied to everyday life? Are there any more recent examples where people started fulfilling a role and became abusive?

Personal Application Questions

Try attending a religious service very different from your own and see how you feel and behave without knowing the appropriate script. Or, try attending an important, personal event that you have never attended before, such as a bar mitzvah (a coming-of-age ritual in Jewish culture), a quinceañera (in some Latin American cultures a party is given to a girl who is turning 15 years old), a wedding, a funeral, or a sporting event new to you, such as horse racing or bull riding. Observe and record your feelings and behaviors in this unfamiliar setting for which you lack the appropriate script. Do you silently observe the action, or do you ask another person for help interpreting the behaviors of people at the event? Describe in what ways your behavior would change if you were to attend a similar event in the future?

Name and describe at least three social roles you have adopted for yourself. Why did you adopt these roles? What are some roles that are expected of you, but that you try to resist?

Attitudes and Persuasion

Social psychologists have documented how the power of the situation can influence our behaviors. Now we turn to how the power of the situation can influence our attitudes and beliefs.  Attitude  is our evaluation of a person, an idea, or an object. We have attitudes for many things ranging from products that we might pick up in the supermarket to people around the world to political policies. Typically, attitudes are favorable or unfavorable: positive or negative (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993). And, they have three components: an affective component (feelings), a behavioral component (the effect of the attitude on behavior), and a cognitive component (belief and knowledge) (Rosenberg & Hovland, 1960).

For example, you may hold a positive attitude toward recycling. This attitude should result in positive feelings toward recycling (such as “It makes me feel good to recycle” or “I enjoy knowing that I make a small difference in reducing the amount of waste that ends up in landfills”). Certainly, this attitude should be reflected in our behavior: You actually recycle as often as you can. Finally, this attitude will be reflected in favorable thoughts (for example, “Recycling is good for the environment” or “Recycling is the responsible thing to do”).

Our attitudes and beliefs are not only influenced by external forces, but also by internal influences that we control. Like our behavior, our attitudes and thoughts are not always changed by situational pressures, but they can be consciously changed by our own free will. In this section we discuss the conditions under which we would want to change our own attitudes and beliefs.

WHAT IS COGNITIVE DISSONANCE?

Social psychologists have documented that feeling good about ourselves and maintaining positive self-esteem is a powerful motivator of human behavior (Tavris & Aronson, 2008). In the United States, members of the predominant culture typically think very highly of themselves and view themselves as good people who are above average on many desirable traits (Ehrlinger, Gilovich, & Ross, 2005). Often, our behavior, attitudes, and beliefs are affected when we experience a threat to our self-esteem or positive self-image. Psychologist Leon Festinger (1957) defined  cognitive dissonance  as psychological discomfort arising from holding two or more inconsistent attitudes, behaviors, or cognitions (thoughts, beliefs, or opinions). Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance states that when we experience a conflict in our behaviors, attitudes, or beliefs that runs counter to our positive self-perceptions, we experience psychological discomfort (dissonance). For example, if you believe smoking is bad for your health but you continue to smoke, you experience conflict between your belief and behavior ( Figure ).

A diagram shows the process of cognitive dissonance. Two disparate statements (“I am a smoker” and “Smoking is bad for your health”) are joined as an example of cognitive dissonance. A flow diagram joins them in a process labeled, “Remove dissonance tension,” with two resulting flows. The first flow path shows the warning on a pack of cigarettes with a checkmark imposed over the image that is labeled, “Smoking is bad for your health.” The path then shows a photograph of an arm with a nicotine patch that is labeled, “I quit smoking.” The second flow path shows the warning on a pack of cigarettes with an X imposed over the image and is labeled, “Research is inconclusive,” then shows a photograph of a person smoking labeled, “I am still a smoker.”

Later research documented that only conflicting cognitions that threaten individuals’ positive self-image cause dissonance (Greenwald & Ronis, 1978). Additional research found that dissonance is not only psychologically uncomfortable but also can cause physiological arousal (Croyle & Cooper, 1983) and activate regions of the brain important in emotions and cognitive functioning (van Veen, Krug, Schooler, & Carter, 2009). When we experience cognitive dissonance, we are motivated to decrease it because it is psychologically, physically, and mentally uncomfortable. We can reduce  cognitive dissonance  by bringing our cognitions, attitudes, and behaviors in line—that is, making them harmonious. This can be done in different ways, such as:

  • changing our discrepant behavior (e.g., stop smoking),
  • changing our cognitions through rationalization or denial (e.g., telling ourselves that health risks can be reduced by smoking filtered cigarettes),
  • adding a new cognition (e.g., “Smoking suppresses my appetite so I don’t become overweight, which is good for my health.”).

A classic example of cognitive dissonance is John, a 20-year-old who enlists in the military. During boot camp he is awakened at 5:00 a.m., is chronically sleep deprived, yelled at, covered in sand flea bites, physically bruised and battered, and mentally exhausted ( Figure ). It gets worse. Recruits that make it to week 11 of boot camp have to do 54 hours of continuous training.

A photograph shows a person doing pushups while a military leader stands over the person; other people are doing jumping jacks in the background.

Not surprisingly, John is miserable. No one likes to be miserable. In this type of situation, people can change their beliefs, their attitudes, or their behaviors. The last option, a change of behaviors, is not available to John. He has signed on to the military for four years, and he cannot legally leave.

If John keeps thinking about how miserable he is, it is going to be a very long four years. He will be in a constant state of cognitive dissonance. As an alternative to this misery, John can change his beliefs or attitudes. He can tell himself, “I am becoming stronger, healthier, and sharper. I am learning discipline and how to defend myself and my country. What I am doing is really important.” If this is his belief, he will realize that he is becoming stronger through his challenges. He then will feel better and not experience cognitive dissonance, which is an uncomfortable state.

The Effect of Initiation

The military example demonstrates the observation that a difficult  initiation  into a group influences us to like the group  more , due to the justification of effort. We do not want to have wasted time and effort to join a group that we eventually leave. A classic experiment by Aronson and Mills (1959) demonstrated this justification of effort effect. College students volunteered to join a campus group that would meet regularly to discuss the psychology of sex. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: no initiation, an easy initiation, and a difficult initiation into the group. After participating in the first discussion, which was deliberately made very boring, participants rated how much they liked the group. Participants who underwent a difficult initiation process to join the group rated the group more favorably than did participants with an easy initiation or no initiation ( Figure ).

A bar graph has an x-axis labeled, “Difficulty of initiation” and a y-axis labeled, “Relative magnitude of liking a group.” The liking of the group is low to moderate for the groups whose difficulty of initiation was “none” or “easy,” but high for the group whose difficulty of initiation was “difficult.”

Similar effects can be seen in a more recent study of how student effort affects course evaluations. Heckert, Latier, Ringwald-Burton, and Drazen (2006) surveyed 463 undergraduates enrolled in courses at a midwestern university about the amount of effort that their courses required of them. In addition, the students were also asked to evaluate various aspects of the course. Given what you’ve just read, it will come as no surprise that those courses that were associated with the highest level of effort were evaluated as being more valuable than those that did not. Furthermore, students indicated that they learned more in courses that required more effort, regardless of the grades that they received in those courses (Heckert et al., 2006).

Besides the classic military example and group initiation, can you think of other examples of  cognitive dissonance ? Here is one: Marco and Maria live in Fairfield County, Connecticut, which is one of the wealthiest areas in the United States and has a very high cost of living. Marco telecommutes from home and Maria does not work outside of the home. They rent a very small house for more than $3000 a month. Maria shops at consignment stores for clothes and economizes where she can. They complain that they never have any money and that they cannot buy anything new. When asked why they do not move to a less expensive location, since Marco telecommutes, they respond that Fairfield County is beautiful, they love the beaches, and they feel comfortable there. How does the theory of cognitive dissonance apply to Marco and Maria’s choices?

In the previous section we discussed that the motivation to reduce cognitive dissonance leads us to change our attitudes, behaviors, and/or cognitions to make them consonant.  Persuasion  is the process of changing our attitude toward something based on some kind of communication. Much of the persuasion we experience comes from outside forces. How do people convince others to change their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors ( Figure )? What communications do you receive that attempt to persuade you to change your attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors?

A photograph shows the back of a car that is covered in numerous bumper stickers.

A subfield of social psychology studies persuasion and social influence, providing us with a plethora of information on how humans can be persuaded by others.

Yale Attitude Change Approach

The topic of persuasion has been one of the most extensively researched areas in social psychology (Fiske et al., 2010). During the Second World War, Carl  Hovland  extensively researched persuasion for the U.S. Army. After the war, Hovland continued his exploration of persuasion at Yale University. Out of this work came a model called the  Yale attitude change approach , which describes the conditions under which people tend to change their attitudes. Hovland demonstrated that certain features of the source of a persuasive message, the content of the message, and the characteristics of the audience will influence the persuasiveness of a message (Hovland, Janis, & Kelley, 1953).

Features of the source of the persuasive message include the credibility of the speaker (Hovland & Weiss, 1951) and the physical attractiveness of the speaker (Eagly & Chaiken, 1975; Petty, Wegener, & Fabrigar, 1997). Thus, speakers who are credible, or have expertise on the topic, and who are deemed as trustworthy are more persuasive than less credible speakers. Similarly, more attractive speakers are more persuasive than less attractive speakers. The use of famous actors and athletes to advertise products on television and in print relies on this principle. The immediate and long term impact of the persuasion also depends, however, on the credibility of the messenger (Kumkale & Albarracín, 2004).

Features of the message itself that affect persuasion include subtlety (the quality of being important, but not obvious) (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986; Walster & Festinger, 1962); sidedness (that is, having more than one side) (Crowley & Hoyer, 1994; Igou & Bless, 2003; Lumsdaine & Janis, 1953); timing (Haugtvedt & Wegener, 1994; Miller & Campbell, 1959), and whether both sides are presented. Messages that are more subtle are more persuasive than direct messages. Arguments that occur first, such as in a debate, are more influential if messages are given back-to-back. However, if there is a delay after the first message, and before the audience needs to make a decision, the last message presented will tend to be more persuasive (Miller & Campbell, 1959).

Features of the audience that affect persuasion are attention (Albarracín & Wyer, 2001; Festinger & Maccoby, 1964), intelligence, self-esteem (Rhodes & Wood, 1992), and age (Krosnick & Alwin, 1989). In order to be persuaded, audience members must be paying attention. People with lower intelligence are more easily persuaded than people with higher intelligence; whereas people with moderate self-esteem are more easily persuaded than people with higher or lower self-esteem (Rhodes & Wood, 1992). Finally, younger adults aged 18–25 are more persuadable than older adults.

Elaboration Likelihood Model

An especially popular model that describes the dynamics of persuasion is the elaboration likelihood model of persuasion (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). The  elaboration likelihood model  considers the variables of the attitude change approach—that is, features of the source of the persuasive message, contents of the message, and characteristics of the audience are used to determine when attitude change will occur. According to the elaboration likelihood model of persuasion, there are two main routes that play a role in delivering a persuasive message: central and peripheral ( Figure ).

A diagram shows two routes of persuasion. A box on the left is labeled “persuasive message” and arrows from the box separate into two routes: the central and peripheral routes, each with boxes describing the characteristics of the audience, processing, and persuasion. The audience is “motivated, analytical” in the central route, and “not motivated, not analytical” in the peripheral route. Processing in the central route is “high effort; evaluate message” and in the peripheral route is “low effort; persuaded by cues outside of message.” Persuasion in the central route is “lasting change in attitude” and in the peripheral route is “temporary change in attitude.”

The  central route  is logic driven and uses data and facts to convince people of an argument’s worthiness. For example, a car company seeking to persuade you to purchase their model will emphasize the car’s safety features and fuel economy. This is a direct route to persuasion that focuses on the quality of the information. In order for the central route of persuasion to be effective in changing attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors, the argument must be strong and, if successful, will result in lasting attitude change.

The central route to persuasion works best when the target of persuasion, or the audience, is analytical and willing to engage in processing of the information. From an advertiser’s perspective, what products would be best sold using the central route to persuasion? What audience would most likely be influenced to buy the product? One example is buying a computer. It is likely, for example, that small business owners might be especially influenced by the focus on the computer’s quality and features such as processing speed and memory capacity.

The  peripheral route  is an indirect route that uses peripheral cues to associate positivity with the message (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). Instead of focusing on the facts and a product’s quality, the peripheral route relies on association with positive characteristics such as positive emotions and celebrity endorsement. For example, having a popular athlete advertise athletic shoes is a common method used to encourage young adults to purchase the shoes. This route to attitude change does not require much effort or information processing. This method of persuasion may promote positivity toward the message or product, but it typically results in less permanent attitude or behavior change. The audience does not need to be analytical or motivated to process the message. In fact, a peripheral route to persuasion may not even be noticed by the audience, for example in the strategy of product placement. Product placement refers to putting a product with a clear brand name or brand identity in a TV show or movie to promote the product (Gupta & Lord, 1998). For example, one season of the reality series  American Idol prominently showed the panel of judges drinking out of cups that displayed the Coca-Cola logo. What other products would be best sold using the peripheral route to persuasion? Another example is clothing: A retailer may focus on celebrities that are wearing the same style of clothing.

Foot-in-the-door Technique

Researchers have tested many persuasion strategies that are effective in selling products and changing people’s attitude, ideas, and behaviors. One effective strategy is the foot-in-the-door technique (Cialdini, 2001; Pliner, Hart, Kohl, & Saari, 1974). Using the  foot-in-the-door technique , the persuader gets a person to agree to bestow a small favor or to buy a small item, only to later request a larger favor or purchase of a bigger item. The foot-in-the-door technique was demonstrated in a study by Freedman and Fraser (1966) in which participants who agreed to post small sign in their yard or sign a petition were more likely to agree to put a large sign in their yard than people who declined the first request ( Figure ). Research on this technique also illustrates the principle of consistency (Cialdini, 2001): Our past behavior often directs our future behavior, and we have a desire to maintain consistency once we have a committed to a behavior.

Photograph A shows a campaign button. Photograph B shows a yard filled with numerous signs.

A common application of foot-in-the-door is when teens ask their parents for a small permission (for example, extending curfew by a half hour) and then asking them for something larger. Having granted the smaller request increases the likelihood that parents will acquiesce with the later, larger request.

How would a store owner use the foot-in-the-door technique to sell you an expensive product? For example, say that you are buying the latest model smartphone, and the salesperson suggests you purchase the best data plan. You agree to this. The salesperson then suggests a bigger purchase—the three-year extended warranty. After agreeing to the smaller request, you are more likely to also agree to the larger request. You may have encountered this if you have bought a car. When salespeople realize that a buyer intends to purchase a certain model, they might try to get the customer to pay for many or most available options on the car.

Attitudes are our evaluations or feelings toward a person, idea, or object and typically are positive or negative. Our attitudes and beliefs are influenced not only by external forces, but also by internal influences that we control. An internal form of attitude change is cognitive dissonance or the tension we experience when our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are in conflict. In order to reduce dissonance, individuals can change their behavior, attitudes, or cognitions, or add a new cognition. External forces of persuasion include advertising; the features of advertising that influence our behaviors include the source, message, and audience. There are two primary routes to persuasion. The central route to persuasion uses facts and information to persuade potential consumers. The peripheral route uses positive association with cues such as beauty, fame, and positive emotions.

Attitudes describe our ________ of people, objects, and ideas.

  • evaluations

Cognitive dissonance causes discomfort because it disrupts our sense of ________.

  • unpredictability
  • consistency

In order for the central route to persuasion to be effective, the audience must be ________ and ________.

  • analytical; motivated
  • attentive; happy
  • intelligent; unemotional
  • gullible; distracted

Examples of cues used in peripheral route persuasion include all of the following  except

  • celebrity endorsement
  • positive emotions
  • attractive models
  • factual information

Give an example (one  not  used in class or your text) of cognitive dissonance and how an individual might resolve this.

Imagine that you work for an advertising agency, and you’ve been tasked with developing an advertising campaign to increase sales of Bliss Soda. How would you develop an advertisement for this product that uses a central route of persuasion? How would you develop an ad using a peripheral route of persuasion?

Cognitive dissonance often arises after making an important decision, called post-decision dissonance (or in popular terms, buyer’s remorse). Describe a recent decision you made that caused dissonance and describe how you resolved it.

Describe a time when you or someone you know used the foot-in-the-door technique to gain someone’s compliance.

[glossary-page] [glossary-term]attitude:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]evaluations of or feelings toward a person, idea, or object that are typically positive or negative[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]central route persuasion:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]logic-driven arguments using data and facts to convince people of an argument’s worthiness[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]cognitive dissonance:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]psychological discomfort that arises from a conflict in a person’s behaviors, attitudes, or beliefs that runs counter to one’s positive self-perception[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]foot-in-the-door technique:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]persuasion of one person by another person, encouraging a person to agree to a small favor, or to buy a small item, only to later request a larger favor or purchase of a larger item[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]peripheral route persuasion:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]one person persuades another person; an indirect route that relies on association of peripheral cues (such as positive emotions and celebrity endorsement) to associate positivity with a message[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]persuasion:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]process of changing our attitude toward something based on some form of communication[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]script:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]person’s knowledge about the sequence of events in a specific setting[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]social norm:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]group’s expectations regarding what is appropriate and acceptable for the thoughts and behavior of its members[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]social role:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]socially defined pattern of behavior that is expected of a person in a given setting or group[/glossary-definition]

[glossary-term]stanford prison experiment:[/glossary-term] [glossary-definition]Stanford University conducted an experiment in a mock prison that demonstrated the power of social roles, social norms, and scripts[/glossary-definition] [/glossary-page]

General Psychology Copyright © by Lumen Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book

IMAGES

  1. Apply successfully with a superior PowerPoint Self-Presentation

    self presentation

  2. Self-Presentation

    self presentation

  3. Self Presentation Contains Image Name Personal Or Professional

    self presentation

  4. Self Introduction PowerPoint Presentation Slide

    self presentation

  5. Professional Self Introduction PowerPoint Presentation Slides

    self presentation

  6. Self Presentation

    self presentation

VIDEO

  1. Workplace Skills: Self-Presentation

  2. Sample Presentation About Myself Interview Ppt Powerpoint Presentation Slides

  3. Sacrifice

  4. Why are presentation skills important?

  5. Workplace Skills: Self-Presentation

  6. How to Do a Presentation On Yourself

COMMENTS

  1. The self presentation theory and how to present your best self

    Learn what self presentation means, why we do it, and how to use it to your advantage. Discover the three main reasons for self presentation, the individual differences, and the tips to present your best self in various situations.

  2. Impression Management: Erving Goffman Theory

    Learn how people try to control the impressions others form of them through self-presentation strategies and social interaction. Explore the concepts, examples, and implications of Goffman's theory of impression management.

  3. Self-Presentation

    Self-presentation is how people attempt to present themselves to control or shape how others view them. It involves expressing oneself and behaving in ways that create a desired impression. Learn about the definition, history, goals, avenues, and examples of self-presentation from social psychology research.

  4. Self-Presentation in the Digital World

    How do personality theories predict and explain self-presentation behaviours in the digital world? This article explores the differences between real-world and digital self-presentation, and the role of gender, reward, and impression management in online platforms. It challenges the applicability of traditional personality theories to online contexts and suggests new insights from digital-personality research.

  5. Self-Presentation

    Self-presentation is the process of managing one's own image and impression in social situations. ScienceDirect Topics provides an overview of the theories, research, and applications of self-presentation in various domains, such as psychology, sociology, communication, and health. Learn how self-presentation influences self-esteem, identity, motivation, and interpersonal relationships.

  6. 2.3 Perceiving and Presenting Self

    Learn how we develop our self-concept and self-esteem through social comparison, social norms, and social comparison theory. Explore how we present ourselves to others and how we influence others' perception of us through self-presentation strategies.

  7. Self-Presentation Theory: Self-Construction and Audience Pleasing

    Learn how self-presentation is a class of motivations in human behavior that depends on the evaluative presence of others and their knowledge of one's actions. Explore the theoretical and empirical foundations, applications, and limitations of self-presentation theory.

  8. 2.3: Self-Presentation

    Self-presentation is the process of strategically concealing or revealing personal information in order to influence others' perceptions. 1 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 ...

  9. 12.2 Self-presentation

    Learn how social roles, social norms, and scripts influence human behavior in different settings and cultures. Explore the findings and criticisms of Zimbardo's Stanford prison experiment.

  10. Self-Presentation

    Self-Presentation. Self-presentation is the process by which individuals represent themselves to the social world. This process occurs at both conscious and nonconscious (automatic) levels and is usually motivated by a desire to please others and/or meet the needs of the self. Self-presentation can be used as a means to manage the impressions ...

  11. Self-presentation

    Learn how social roles, social norms, and scripts influence human behavior and self-presentation. Explore the Stanford prison experiment and how it reveals the power of social roles and social norms.

  12. Self-Presentation in Presentations

    Self-Presentation in Presentations. When you give a presentation, it is important to remember the whole package, and that means how you present yourself as well as how you present the material. It is not good to spend hours and hours preparing a wonderful presentation and neglect the effect of your own appearance.

  13. 12.2: Self-presentation

    12.2: Self-presentation. Explain what social norms are and how they influence behavior. Describe the findings of Zimbardo's Stanford prison experiment. As you've learned, social psychology is the study of how people affect one another's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We have discussed situational perspectives and social psychology's ...

  14. Self-Presentation and Social Influence: Evidence for an Automatic

    Self-presentation is a social influence tactic in which people engage in communicative efforts to influence the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of others as related to the self-presenter. Despite theoretical arguments that such efforts comprise an automatic component, the majority of research continues to characterize self-presentation as ...

  15. Self-presentation: Signaling Personal and Social Characteristics

    Tactics of Self-presentation. Nearly every aspect of people's behavior provides information from which others can draw inferences about them, but actions are considered self-presentational only if they are enacted, at least in part, with the goal of leading other people to perceive the individual in a particular way. People convey information ...

  16. Self-Presentation: Our Sense of Self Is Influenced by the Audiences We

    Different self-presentation strategies may be used to create different emotions in other people. We often use self-presentation in the longer term, seeking to build and sustain particular reputations with specific social audiences. The individual-difference variable of self-monitoring relates to the ability and desire to self-present.

  17. Self Presentation And Self Presentation Theory Explained

    Learn how to present yourself to others in a way that shows your confidence, personality and goals. Find out the definition, the two parts and the impact of self-presentation theory on organizations and social media.

  18. What Is Self-Presentation and How Do You Improve It?

    Self-presentation is any action you take with the intent to influence how other people perceive of you. It's the way you interact with other people, how much you reveal about yourself, and whether you're presenting an honest view of who you really are. For example, if you meet someone new who's incredibly confident and outgoing, you might ...

  19. Self-Presentation ... What is it?

    Why do we behave differently when we are by ourselves vs when we are with other people? It has a lot to do with different comfort zones and our self presenta...

  20. Key rules of self-presentation in IT job interviews: Recruiter's ...

    Self-presentation is an important part of the interview, as it forms the overall impression of the candidate in the eyes of the recruiter, HR manager, or other interviewer.

  21. PDF MoodCapture: Depression Detection Using In-the-Wild Smartphone Images

    sirability and self-presentation, which often affect traditional tools. A limited number of past research have used "in-the-wild" smart-phone images for mental health evaluation. For instance, Wang et al. [73] collected 5811 opportunistic photos in-the-wild from 37 students over ten weeks using their phone's front-facing camera.

  22. WED@NICO SEMINAR: Jeremy Birnholtz, Northwestern School of

    Self-presentation, rooted in Goffman's classic work, is the fundamental social process by which people shape their public personas and play the social roles (e.g., teacher, student, lesbian, doctor, etc.) that structure our everyday interactions. Today's social platforms and communication technologies, however, complicate this process in ...

  23. Self-presentation

    As you've learned, social psychology is the study of how people affect one another's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We have discussed situational perspectives and social psychology's emphasis on the ways in which a person's environment, including culture and other social influences, affect behavior. In this section, we examine ...

  24. Digital selves: A cross-cultural examination of athlete social media

    This study investigates the social media self-presentation of Chinese, South Korean, and US athletes during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, with the aim of elucidating the influence of gender and nationalism on their online portrayals across countries. A total of 1800 photographs posted by 278 Olympians were analyzed, revealing that (a) South Korean ...

  25. Drive-Away Dolls Is a Wonderfully Unimportant Romp

    In Drive-Away Dolls, Jamie, the Chief, and Arliss are inclined to be "European" in various ways — the elegant self-presentation of the Chief, and Jamie and Arliss's insistence on being more open to life and sexuality and a wider range of experiences. It's especially funny to hear Arliss, Goon #1, try to persuade Flint, Goon #2, using ...

  26. 8.11: Self-Presentation, Attitudes, and Persuasion

    Self-presentation. As you've learned, social psychology is the study of how people affect one another's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We have discussed situational perspectives and social psychology's emphasis on the ways in which a person's environment, including culture and other social influences, affect behavior. ...

  27. Authenticity and the Public Literary Self: Will The 'Real' Author

    This is the first book-length study on how authors of color present themselves in public literary discourse. The study utilizes data obtained from and around exemplary empirical case study participants - Junot Diaz, Madeleine Thien, and Mohsin Hamid. Relevant data includes the case study authors' Twitter usage and the impact of the digital sphere in author self-presentation. Dr Iyer ...

  28. Self-Presentation, Attitudes, and Persuasion

    Self-presentation. As you've learned, social psychology is the study of how people affect one another's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We have discussed situational perspectives and social psychology's emphasis on the ways in which a person's environment, including culture and other social influences, affect behavior. ...