The ability to manage impressions is an integral part in everyday life as individuals are able to alter people’s perceptions according to how one sees or wants to be seen by others. Self-presentation, also referred to as impression management, implies that an individual is monitoring how one is being perceived and evaluated by others and has considered the self-presentational implications of one’s behavior (Leary, Nezlek, Downs, Radford-Davenport, Martin, & McMullen, 1994). The amount of attention that people devote to their public images varies across situations and individuals. Some people are oblivious of others’ impression of them. On the other hand, there are people who are highly attuned to others evaluations and devote enormous amounts of effort to create the correct impression. A majority of people usually operate somewhere between these two bounds in that they tend to monitor at a moderate level on how they come across to others. However, in many situations people who are not monitoring or thinking about the impressions they are making can become quickly aware of others’ evaluative reactions (Leary & Kowalski, 1990).
The discrepancy between why in certain situations people are motivated to affect how others perceive them, and other times not is referred to as impression motivation (Tetlock & Manstead, 1985). Leary and Kowalski (1990) described impression motivation as being affected by three primary sets of factors: the perceived goal relevance of the person’s impressions, the value of the person’s desired goals, and the discrepancy between the person’s desired and current images.
The more important the attainment of a goal is to one’s self image, the more motivated people are to manage impressions to achieve that goal. People become more concerned with how others perceive them. Ferris and Porac (1984) researched some of the factors that would determine how relevant one’s impressions are to the fulfillment of their goals. Their results indicated that people set higher goals when others were present. In other words, the more public a behavior is, the more significant it is to manage impressions to accomplish that goal.
However, there are private behaviors that some people feel is necessary to self-present. Leary and Kowalski (1990) stated, “people may privately prepare to perform impression-relevant behaviors in public” (pg. 38). In some instances, people self-present in public settings so often that the actions become habitual, which may eventually carry over into their private behaviors.
People are motivated to manage their impressions the more they value a particular goal. Because the value of outcomes increases as their availability decreases, impression motivation should increase when valued outcomes are scarce. Pandey and Rastagi (1979) found that ingratiation in the workplace appears to increase, for example, as job competition becomes more fierce, and strategic self-presentation arises when valued resources are scarce.
However, individual differences occur with people who are high in need for approval, because they are more motivated to self-present after failure in order to preserve their self-esteem (Schneider & Turkat, 1975). This illustrates that being high in the need for approval is associated with greater incentive to manage impressions.
This type of impression motivation occurs when there is a discrepancy between how the person wants to be seen by others and the image that person thinks others have of them. When an individual recognizes this discrepancy, there is a motivation to reduce the discrepancy. In a majority of situations, an embarrassing incident that is witnessed by someone else causes the need to initiate self-presentational tactics. Leary and his colleagues (1996) conducted an experiment that caused participants to become embarrassed, and then researchers noted that some of these participants engaged in self-presentational tactics to improve their damaged social image. Participants, through verbal expressions or blushing, were motivated to portray face-saving tactics to try to repair their image in the researchersâ€™ eyes due to the embarrassing incident.
Another type of discrepancy can occur when a person conveys an impression that is inconsistent with his or her own sense of self (Leary & Kowalski, 1990). For example, if an applicant inadvertently insults an interviewer during a job interview, he or she would frantically try to retract the comment and assuage the situation. In these circumstances, individuals immediately try and self-present to get others to see them as they truly are, and to re-establish their social identity, which also restores their own sense of self.
A person’s self-concept is a primary determinant of the impressions one is trying to project. The more important or central a particular attribute is, the more likely it will be recognized through self-presentational behaviors.
In a series of experiments, Jones and his colleagues (1981) investigated the effects of strategic self-enhancement or self-deprecation on subsequent ratings of self-esteem. In the first two experiments, participants who were induced to present themselves in either a self-enhancing or self-deprecating fashion during an interview later rated their self-esteem in a manner that was consistent with their self-presentations. Similarly, in the third experiment, participants who played a self-enhancing role for the interview also assessed their self-esteem as higher than they original began with. This shift was only true if the participant did not have pre-planned answers to the interview questions, but answered freely in-role. In the opposite experimental condition, participants playing a self-deprecating role demonstrated a lower self-esteem only when they were given a clear choice on whether to engage in the interview. Overall, the participants’ believability of their self-presentations enhanced the internalization of those presentations (Jones et al., 1981).
Another experiment demonstrated that self-presentations have an impact on subsequent self-appraisals, behaviors, and recall of relevant events (Schlenker, Dlugolecki, & Doherty, 1994, Experiment 1). Participants were either instructed to present themselves as sociable during an interview or were given information about the importance of sociability but were not interviewed. All of the participants waited in a room with a confederate who later judged how sociable each participant behaved. After the experiment, participants completed an assessment of their own sociability and any instances outside of the laboratory that were relevant to sociability. The results revealed that the participants who presented themselves as sociable at the interview later behaved more sociable, rated themselves as more sociable, and recalled more past experiences in which they behaved sociable than did the participants who were not interviewed. Another important finding was that no differences emerged for any other features such as self-esteem, intelligence, leadership abilities, or affective states. Therefore, this experiment demonstrated not only that self-presentations have an impact on behaviors, but also that these effects correspond only to self-images portrayed in self-presentation and are not the results of a shift in affect or self-esteem (Schlenker et al., 1994). These findings allude to the idea that people’s self-concepts can be influenced by the way people present themselves.
Research has demonstrated that even the mere presence of an audience can enhance the internalization of one’s self-presentations (Tice, 1992). A pair of studies showed that participants who were induced to describe themselves in particular ways for an audience tended to bring their self-beliefs more in line with their self-descriptions than participants who described themselves anonymously. In each study, after the participant was told in which manner to act, they were asked to take a chair into a waiting room where an unknown confederate would already be sitting. Sitting relatively close to the confederate and having a conversation characterized extraverted behavior. Introverted behavior was seen as sitting far from and not speaking to the confederate. The changes in self-beliefs extended to changes in the participants’ behaviors, and these behavioral changes occurred even when the participants were unaware of being observed (Tice, 1992, Study 2). At the end of the experiment, the participants were debriefed and so no lasting self-concept changes would be seen in any follow-up procedures. Further research could examine whether this induced self-concept change could have lasting effects.
People will strategically exploit or withhold information regarding a friend’s identity in order to help create a desired impression for a friend upon significant audiences. For example, if an employee in a business is trying to get a friend a job where he or she works, then the employee will deliberately speak of only the good qualities that the friend possesses and not about how lazy their friend can be at times. Schlenker and Britt (2001) explored this with participants who had to describe their friend to a researcher who was evaluating their partner’s cognitive skills. As predicted, people engaged in more beneficial impression management to help friends who experienced more evaluative pressure to make a good impression, and this was stronger for people who were higher in empathy. Participants spoke of their friends with more favorable descriptions, and this effect increased as empathy increased. In addition, the stronger the friendship was, the more their friends portrayed their partner as having a great deal of integrative ability about an important trait. In contrast, when the measure of friendship strength was weaker, there was very little display of any significant responsiveness to the evaluative pressures on their friends. The closer the relationships were, the higher the empathy and concern for the well being of the other became (Schlenker & Britt, 2001).
In a similar study by Schlenker and Britt (1999), friends would strategically control information about their friend’s identity according to the qualities preferred by an attractive person of the opposite sex. The same was conducted with an unattractive person of the opposite sex. When the friend found the other person to be good looking, the participant described their friend’s attributes consistently with the qualities that the attractive person deemed important. For example, if the attractive target prefers someone who is outgoing and sociable as an ideal date, they will describe their friend as relatively outgoing and sociable. The opposite was true for an unattractive individual. The participant would describe the friend’s attributes as contradictory to what the unattractive person considered important. The participant hoped the unattractive person would feel that the friend was “not their type.” This tactic could serve to protect the friend from unappreciated and unwanted attention. This experiment illustrated impression management to benefit friends by promoting and protecting their desired identities. Thus, all acts of self-presentation are self-serving or devious (Schlenker & Britt, 1999).
Most self-presentation research has dealt with managing impressions among strangers but not friends. However, how one creates a positive impression may vary according to the audience one is trying to impress. Tice and his colleagues (1995) found that people self-present in a much more promoting manner when the audience consisted of strangers, and more modestly when self-presenting among friends. Friends presumably know about their friends past successes and achievements, eliminating the need to be boastful so not to seem conceited. On the other hand, strangers are unaware of any achievements the participants had partaken in; therefore, they could speak more favorably about themselves without seeming redundant or arrogant. In Study 2, the audience was manipulated to be made up of all strangers and one friend. With the addition of a single friend, the participant was inhibited to self-present even though the audience was made up of a majority of strangers (Tice et al., 1995). The results of Study 2 replicated the results found in Study 1. Participants were more modest when answering questions in front of a friend then in front of a stranger. This result is because it is unnecessary to try to impress people who already know their friend’s successes and failures, this would only make one seem arrogant and pompous. Therefore, when the opportunity arises to flaunt one’s positive characteristic, it is usually among an unknown audience.
Pontari and Schlenker (2000) explored the difference in people’s self-presentational abilities when given an additional cognitive load. The participants were either extraverted or introverted, and were asked to participate in an interview where they would act either extraverted or introverted. When a participant was self-presenting congruently with their own behavior, remembering an eight-digit number did not hinder their self-presentational abilities. However, incongruent self-presentations were affected by the additional cognitive demand. When an extraverted person was asked to behave introverted during an interview and remember an eight-digit number, their acting capabilities were decreased. For extraverts, cognitive demand seemed to block needed cognitive resources, but they were still able to perform reasonably well. Ironically, the opposite was true for introverts playing an extraverted role during the interview. It seems that the addition of the cognitive load had a liberating effect in that their attention was diverted from worrying or feeling shy about acting extraverted since they had to remember the eight-digit number. Pontari and Schlenker (2000) took this a step further with their next study to evaluate other situations when introverted individuals may feel less publicly self-conscious or had fewer negative self-focused thoughts. It was found that regardless of the social situation, if any cognitive load was placed on an introverted individual, that person would experience a reduction in negative self-thoughts, a reduction in public self-consciousness, and an increase in the ability to create an out-of-character impression. Overall, increased cognitive load can improve social performance (Pontari & Schlenker, 2000).
Much of previous research has been devoted to the verbal aspects of self-presentation. Depaulo (1992) explored the realm of controlling nonverbal behavior for self-presentational purposes. People might take a chance at expressing something nonverbally that they would normally be reluctant to express verbally. It is easy to deny or alter the meaning of a facial expression if a person begins to regret having done so.
There is a gender difference in the ability to nonverbally self-present throughout all ages. Research conducted on preschoolers to adults all indicated that females are the more talented deceiving sex (Depaulo, 1992). Depaulo (1992) asserted that women are nonverbally more involved and more open in their interpersonal interactions than men. Their faces are more spontaneously expressive, and they are more successful at posing a particular emotion. Depaulo (1992) also reasons that from an early age, women were more concerned with making good impressions and avoiding bad ones that over time their ability to nonverbally self-present was enhanced. However, a women’s ability to move their body in a more involved and expressive manner may have been deliberate to begin with, but over time could become a habitual act. On the other hand, it may just be a natural and more comfortable way for a woman to behave and has no self-presentational implications.
Physically attractive individuals are better at expressing emotions spontaneously and are better at posing emotions with their faces (Depaulo, 1992). The contributing factor is believed to be that attractive people are more confident about their abilities and feel that they have an advantage over others. Perhaps an explanation for this phenomenon is that the person who is speaking to the attractive individual is not paying attention to the words or facial expressions the good-looking person is portraying, but rather concentrating on his or hers physical attributes instead.
The level of self-presentation one partakes in is motivated by how relevant managing an impression is in order to obtain a goal, how much an individual values that goal, and if an individual feels that there is a discrepancy between the image one wants to project and the image others perceive. In some situations, a person may self-present so often that the actions become habitual, then the person may begin to internalize those beliefs and their self-esteem is affected accordingly.
There are a myriad of possibilities where a person can use self-presentation to influence others perceptions. Research has indicated that people will self-present in behalf of a friend to try to create an impression for another individual while the friend is not available. Further, a person will refrain from self-presenting when speaking about themselves in front of friends, but will boast in front of strangers. The complexity of verbal and non-verbal self-presentation makes it an integral part in everyday life.