Self-Presentation and Impression Management

05.04.2023 |

Episode #9 of the course Psychology of the self by Psychology Insights Online


Welcome back! In the final two lessons of the course, we are going to discuss the ways in which people present themselves to others. Relatedly, we are also going to discuss some of the common strategies that people use to craft a specific impression in people’s minds.

It can be uncomfortable for some people to admit that the opinions of others are important to us. Yet, being part of a group is very beneficial for our social, mental, and even physical health. On the other hand, being excluded by others is painful for us. In fact, researchers have found that the pain from being socially disconnected activates similar brain regions to that of physical pain (Eisenberger, 2012). Perhaps not surprisingly, then, we tend to pay close attention to what other people are saying about us. This is nicely illustrated by the spotlight effect, a well-known cognitive bias which states that people tend to think that they are being closely watched by others, but in reality, they are not being that closely watched at all. In fact, most people are usually much too focused on their own appearance, performance, etc., to pay attention to other people. However, thinking that we are being observed often makes us self-conscious.

Not only are we thinking that others are focusing on us, but we are also highly aware of when somebody may be talking about us. The cocktail party effect is a fascinating phenomenon whereby people can pick out someone saying their name, even in a noisy environment. Moreover, we can eavesdrop on another conversation and identify if our name is mentioned, even if we are carrying on a conversation of our own. How does this happen? It turns out that the human brain has evolved to be able to filter out sounds that are less relevant to us and instead focus on auditory information that is more important to us personally (Nima et al., 2012).

Given the importance of social standing to our self-esteem, humans have devised numerous ways to present themselves in the best possible light. Self-presentation describes the overall process of shaping the impressions that people have of us. It is often referred to as strategic self-presentation because it is done with the intention of creating an image of you in the minds of other people. We all do this quite naturally, but some people also tend to be better at it than others. In psychology, the specific strategies that people use to do this are called impression management (Schlenker, 2012).

The first major impression management strategy identified by psychologists is self-promotion. With self-promotion, a person attempts to create an impression of themselves as being highly competent and accomplished by emphasizing their positive characteristics, successes, and abilities. For instance, let’s say that you have just graduated from college and that you are meeting with a recruiter for a Fortune 500 company. In the interview, you would likely emphasize objective and positive attributes such as the fact that you graduated with honors, have a lot of research experience, and served as the vice president of the student union. You might also discuss some of your internal attributes, such as your drive and creativity. The ultimate goal is to gain something (e.g., getting hired for a job) by getting another person who has the power to see you in a positive light.

A related but unique strategy is ingratiation. Whereas self-promotion seeks to create a sense of competence, the goal of ingratiation is to get another person to like you (Gordon, 1996). This is done through tactics such as giving compliments, flattery, showing gratitude, and letting the other person know that you agree with their opinions. Through this, the person is carefully trying to gain influence. This can be quite delicate. For instance, if the person using ingratiation tactics comes across as being insincere, their efforts can actually have the opposite effect (i.e., the target comes to dislike them instead). In addition, when someone uses ingratiation too often, other people start to become aware of this. The result is that other people may label them as “fake” or “manipulative.”

That brings us to the end of this lesson on self-presentation and impression management. In the final lesson in this Highbrow course, we are going to discuss the role of self-verification and self-monitoring in the self. See you again soon!


Recommended book

In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People by Dr. George K. Simon Ph.D.


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