As a fundamental interpersonal process, impression management is an important concept in any communication context. Impression management refers to the process of editing, packaging, and communicating information to control one’s own images as perceived by other people. Studies have shown that people use impression management to influence others, and that it eventually affects the overall quality of one’s life. Even when people have no direct reason to influence others’ behaviors, people are motivated to impression-manage for the following two reasons. First, impression management influences their own self-esteem and reduces negative emotions. Second, it enables people to construct and maintain their private identities. Impression management has been used to define diverse interpersonal communication phenomena, including encounters between strangers, job interviews, friend relationships, romantic relationships, and doctor–patient relationships. The term “impression management” is commonly used interchangeably with “self-presentation,” although some studies differentiate between the two with regard to intended goal direction and authenticity. While impression management focuses on goal-directed social activity to enhance one’s own image and power, self-presentation focuses on self-relevant or authentic presentation (Leary & Kowalski 1990).
Emergence Of Impression Management And Theoretical Concepts
The origin of scientific interest in impression management began with the book The presentation of self in everyday life (Goffman 1959). Goffman’s basic assertion was that social behaviors should be understood through the overt appearances people create for others. Hence, the original focus was on public images attained from others’ judgments and reactions in social life. Jones (1964) focused on how we control others’ impressions of our personal characteristics, sparking psychologists’ interest in impression management. During the 1960s and 1970s, studies of impression management remained relatively peripheral in social psychology, although the topic had been steadily adopted by interpersonal communication researchers. With respect to research methodology, Goffman, as a sociologist, used anthropological field observations. On the other hand, Jones, as a social psychologist, investigated specific factors affecting impression management processes in designed laboratory experiments. Over time, an increasing number of studies reported that a wide range of human behaviors are governed by one’s desire and tactics to control others’ perceptions of one’s self. By the 1980s, impression management had become one of the main research agendas in the field of interpersonal communication.
Scholars have developed various typologies and strategies to analyze impression management styles. A taxonomy of self-presentation strategies, including self-promotion, ingratiation, exemplification, intimidation, and supplication, was suggested. Others suggested two distinct self-presentation tactics – defensive and assertive. Studies have expanded this taxonomy by identifying a number of tactics including excuse, justification, disclaimers, self-handicapping and apology, ingratiation, intimidation, supplication, entitlement, sandbagging, enhancement, and blasting. Three aspects of perfectionistic self-presentation namely perfectionistic self-promotion, nondisplay of imperfection, and nondisclosure of imperfection, were also suggested. Schlenker and Britt (1999) suggested beneficial impression management, where the presenters focus on others as well as themselves. Beneficial impression implies strategic control of information to help close friends make desired impressions on significant audiences. The researchers assert that the success of a close relationship is associated with the use of other-benefiting impression management. While various typologies have been developed, self-enhancement and self-effacement are the most commonly discussed. Some studies have focused on what is termed bragging and on positive and negative self-presentation (Kim et al. 2003).
Findings And Measurement
People have an inherent predisposition to be concerned about how others perceive them. Whenever people are in the presence of others, usually it is in their best interest to convey particular types of impressions. Generally, people are motivated to manage their image in order to maximize rewards and minimize punishments. Situational, dispositional, and audience factors affect the motivation to manage impression and in turn affect social anxiety (Schlenker & Leary 1982). The size of the audience increases the motivation to impress others, and people are more likely to become motivated to impress an audience that is perceived to have more authority. However, a discrepancy can exist between the desired image and reality, with the result that social anxiety will occur when impression-relevant outcomes are lower than expected. As such, impression motivation is closely related with, and is considered a necessary condition for, social anxiety (Leary 1995).
How people present themselves to others is influenced by the private self, specifically the self-concept, self-esteem, and desired and undesired self. Self-concept – the set of beliefs about oneself – is the composite of ideas, feelings, and attitudes people have about themselves. The self-concept influences people’s behavior primarily through the phenomenal self and conscious self-awareness. Phenomenal self implies the portion of one’s self-beliefs in conscious awareness at any particular time. The most common dilemma in impression management occurs when desired image differs from one’s own self-concept. People usually use authentic, deceptive, and exclusionary impression management to respond in such dilemmas. Baumeister et al. (1989) reported that people use different styles of impression management according to their impression management motivation as determined by their self-esteem. In other words, people with high self-esteem are motivated to make favorable impressions and show acquisitive impression management. In contrast, people with low self-esteem are motivated to avoid failure and show protective impression management.
People consciously or unconsciously pursue various styles of impression management to elicit socially desirable responses. Among diverse positive responses, people have a strong and pervasive desire to be liked and respected by others. Jones and Pittman (1982) suggested that self-presentation is a twofold process of ingratiation, where one wants to be liked, and self-promotion, where one wants to be evaluated as competent. Being liked is the most basic and general impression people want to make because it garners them diverse social rewards such as friendship, social support, companionship, romance, and status. Attributions of likeability include being perceived as friendly, intelligent, attractive, fun, outgoing, and easy to talk to (Leary & Kowalski 1990).
Receiving respect, or being judged competent, is also the most basic impression people want to make because “being perceived as competent” can mean higher status, more influence on others, and better jobs. Being perceived as competent is more complicated than being liked, and it may include such diverse attributes as past achievements and self-confidence. With regard to perceived competence, the following two phenomena are especially important. The first is the so-called “self-promoter’s paradox,” which suggests that when people excessively claim their own strengths, they may in fact be perceived as less competent than without the claims. The second is that there could be a negative correlation between being liked and being perceived as competent. That is, when people emphasize their own strengths, they are likely to be seen as “arrogant and conceited,” which are unfavorable traits. As such, self-presentation may face “a constant trade-off between favorability and plausibility” (Tice et al. 1995, 1120).
Some studies have shown that positive self-presentation is more favorably perceived than bragging; a negative presentation of oneself tends to be the least favorably perceived. Also, bragging and positive presentations are considered signs of competence, unlike negative presentations. Researchers have concluded that the effects of different impression management styles are usually influenced by people’s own designed self-image, people’s social role, audience’s characteristics, other people’s existing impressions of the people, the context in which self-presentation is implemented, and presenter’s and audience’s gender.
Several studies have developed measurements for impression management. For example, Roth et al. (1988) reported a scale for indicating negative characteristics (repudiative tactics) and affirming positive characteristics (attributive tactics). A self-presentation tactics scale measuring individual differences in proclivity for using 12 self-presentation tactics was also developed. In this model, a two-component model of defensive and assertive self-presentation was suggested and 12 tactics such as excuse, justification, and ingratiation were developed. Scales measuring the tendency for respondents to engage in impression management include the self-monitoring scale, the social desirability scale, and the public–private self-consciousness scale. While these scales analyze some aspects of the proclivity to engage in impression management, they are not adequate to measure the construct of impression management.
Culture And Impression Management
Cultural psychologists assert that different cultures shape different values in achievement, power, hedonism, respect for tradition, conformity, and contents of self (Schwartz & Bilsky 1987). Recognizing significant weakness in the culture-level approach, researchers have advocated an individual-level approach to explain cross-cultural differences (Kitayama et al. 1997). The self-construal concept was originally developed to explain cultural differences in behaviors and attitudes in individual levels. According to Markus and Kitayama (1991), the central difference between the two self-construals of independence and interdependence is the belief one maintains regarding how the self is related to others. Those who construe themselves as independent see themselves as separate from others and emphasize autonomy, whereas those who see themselves as interdependent perceive that they are connected with others and emphasize conformity. People from western cultures tend to have higher levels of independence, while those of Asian cultures have higher levels of interdependence. Asian people tend to evaluate modesty and self-effacement more highly and have less tolerance toward bragging than those of western cultures. The impact of culture on impression management has been inadequately explored. Increased globalization will drive the need for more studies comparing impression management processes across cultures.
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