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Social context makes a difference in how people present themselves in different
success, whether you are
ways for people with high and low self-esteem. When participants were told to try to
or not, and the tendency
make a good impression in front of an audience, people with high self-esteem presented to believe these positive
themselves in a very egotistical and boastful way, pointing out their sterling qualities presentations.
(Schlenker et al., 1990). People with low self-esteem toned down egotistical tenden-
cies in this high-pressure situation, becoming more timid. It seems that when the social
stakes increase, people with high self-esteem become more interested in enhancing their
self-presentation, whereas their low-self-esteem counterparts are more concerned with
protecting themselves from further blows to the self (Schlenker, 1987).

Self-Monitoring and Impression Management
Another factor that in¬‚uences impression management is the degree to which a person
self-monitoring The degree,
engages in self-monitoring”that is, focuses on how he or she appears to other people in
ranging from low to high, to
different situations. Some people are constantly gathering data on their own actions. These
which a person focuses on
high-self-monitors are very sensitive to the social demands of any situation and tend to ¬t
his or her behavior when in
their behavior to those demands. They are always aware of the impressions they are making a given social situation.
on others; low self-monitors are much less concerned with impression management.
High self-monitors are concerned with how things look to others. For example, they
tend to choose romantic partners who are physically attractive (Snyder, Berscheid, &
Glick, 1985). Low self-monitors are more concerned with meeting people with similar
personality traits and interests. Most high self-monitors are aware that they ¬t their
behavior to the expectations of others. If they were to take a self-assessment like the
one presented in Table 2.2, they would agree with the “high self-monitor” statements
(Snyder, 1987).
Social Psychology
54


Table 2.2 Self-Monitoring Scale


1. I would probably make a good actor. (H)
2. My behavior is usually an expression of my true inner feelings. (L)
3. I have never been good at games like charades or improvisations. (L)
4. I™m not always the person I appear to be. (H)
5. I can deceive people by being friendly when I really dislike them. (H)
6. I can argue only for ideas that I already believe in. (L)
7. I ¬nd it hard to imitate the behavior of other people. (L)
8. In order to get along and be liked, I tend to be what people expect me to be rather
than anything else. (H).

Source: Adapted from Snyder and Gangestad (1986).




It is not surprising to learn that high self-monitors are more prone to sex-based dis-
crimination when they are in a position to hire someone in a business situation. When
hiring for jobs that are sex-typed (either a male- or female-dominated job), human
resource (HR) professionals who were high self-monitors were much more likely to
hire the physically attractive job candidate rather than an equally or more quali¬ed less
attractive candidate (Jawaher & Mattson, 2005).
Interestingly, this only occurred for a sex-typed job. For gender-neutral jobs, the
HR people hired the best candidate regardless of appearance. Again, high self-monitors
appear to be heavily in¬‚uenced by the notion of who “should” ¬ll the job based upon
appearance rather than judging individuals on less obvious, but more important internal
facts, such as the skill they have to do the job.

Self-Presentation and Manipulative Strategies
When people engage in impression management, their goal is to make a favorable
impression on others. We have seen that people work hard to create favorable impressions
on others. Yet we all know people who seem determined to make a poor impression and
to behave in ways that are ultimately harmful to themselves. Why might these kinds
of behavior occur?

Self-Handicapping
Have you ever goofed off before an important exam, knowing that you should study?
Or have you ever slacked off at a sport even though you have a big match coming up? If
you have”and most of us have at one time or another”you have engaged in what social
psychologists call self-handicapping (Berglas & Jones, 1978). People self-handicap
when they are unsure of future success; by putting an obstacle in their way, they protect
their self-esteem if they should perform badly.
self-handicapping The purpose of self-handicapping is to mask the relationship between performance
Self-defeating behavior and ability should you fail. If you do not do well on an examination because you did not
engaged in when you are study, the evaluator doesnʼt know whether your bad grade was due to a lack of prepara-
uncertain about your success
tion (the handicap) or a lack of ability. Of course, if you succeed despite the handicap,
or failure at a task to protect
then others evaluate you much more positively. This is a way of controlling the impres-
your self-esteem in the face
sion people have of you, no matter what the outcome.
of failure.
Chapter 2 The Social Self 55

Although the aim of self-handicapping is to protect the personʼs self-esteem, it does
have some dangers. After all, what are we to make of someone who goes to a movie,
rather than studying for a ¬nal exam? In one research study, college students negatively
evaluated the character of a person who did not study for an important exam (Luginbuhl
& Palmer, 1991). The self-handicappers succeeded in their self-presentations in the sense
that the student evaluators were not sure whether the self-handicappersʼ bad grades were
due to lack of ability or lack of preparation. But the students did not think very much
of someone who would not study for an exam. Therefore, self-handicapping has mixed
results for impression management.
Still, people are willing to make this trade-off. They are probably aware that
their self-handicapping will be seen unfavorably, but they would rather have people
think they are lazy or irresponsible than dumb or incompetent. A study found that
people who self-handicapped and failed at a task had higher self-esteem and were in a
better mood than people who did not handicap and failed (Rhodewalt, Morf, Hazlett,
& Fair¬eld, 1991).
Self-handicapping can take two forms (Baumeister & Scher, 1988). The ¬rst occurs
when the person really wants to succeed but has doubts about the outcome. This person
will put some excuse in place. An athlete who says that she has a nagging injury even
though she knows she is capable of winning is using this kind of impression-manage-
ment strategy. People will really be impressed if she wins despite her injury; if she loses,
they will chalk it up to that Achilles tendon problem.
The second form also involves the creation of obstacles to success but is more self-
destructive. In this case, the individual fears that some success is a ¬‚uke or a mistake
and ¬nds ways to subvert it, usually by handicapping himself in a destructive and
internal manner. For example, a person who is suddenly propelled to fame as a movie
star may ¬nd himself showing up late for rehearsals, or blowing his lines, or getting
into ¬ghts with the director. It may be because he doesnʼt really believe he is that good
an actor, or he may fear he wonʼt be able to live up to his new status. Perhaps being
rich and famous doesnʼt match his self-concept. Consequently, he handicaps himself
in some way.
The abuse of alcohol and drugs may be an example of self-handicapping (Beglas
& Jones, 1978). Abusers may be motivated by a need to have an excuse for possible
failure. They would rather that others blame substance abuse for their (anticipated)
failure than lack of ability. Like the athlete with the injured leg, they want ability to be
discounted as the reason for failure but credited as the basis for success. Because the
self-handicapper will be embarrassed if the excuse that clouds the link between perfor-
mance and outcome is absurd, it is important that the excuse be reasonable and believ-
able. Self-handicapping is thus another way people attempt to maintain control over
the impression others have of them.

Self-Handicapping in Academics
Although self-handicapping may have short-term bene¬ts (if you fail at something, it
is not really your fault, because you have an excuse in place), the behavior has some
long-term drawbacks. Zuckerman, Kieffer, and Knee (1998) did a long-term study of
individuals who used self-handicapping strategies and found that self-handicappers
performed less well academically because of bad study habits and had poorer adjust-
ment scores. They tended to have more negative feelings and withdrew more from other
people than did others who did not self-handicap. As you might have predicted, all of
this negativity started a vicious cycle that led to even more self-handicapping.
Social Psychology
56

Edward Hirt and his colleagues at the University of Indiana thought that perhaps
self-handicapping was really an impression management technique. That is, people put
an excuse in place so that if they fail or just do poorly, people will not attribute the failure
to the self-handicapperʼs ability. If I donʼt take the practice test offered by the professor
and go to a movie the night before the exam, then maybe my poor performance will be
attributed to something other than my lack of academic skills. Indeed Hirt, McCrea,
and Boris (2003) set up such a scenario and found that while other students did not
attribute failure to the studentʼs (lack of) ability, their general evaluations of him were
very negative. So the moviegoerʼs attempt to manage the impressions others have of
him at least partially failed.
As Hirt and his colleagues showed in a series of three studies, there are trade-offs
when one uses self-handicapping as a strategy. In one sense, it accomplishes the per-
sonʼs goal of avoiding the dunce cap: I did not do well because I am a goof-off but at
least I am not stupid. But there are serious interpersonal coasts for self-handicapping.
People observing the actions of a student who doesnʼt study and gets drunk the night
before the big test conclude that he is irresponsible or, just as likely, that he is trying to
manipulate othersʼ perceptions of his behavior (Hirt et al., 2003).



The Impression We Make on Others
How accurate are we in assessing the impression we convey? In general, most people
seem to have a good sense of the impression they make on others. In one study designed
to look at this question, participants interacted with partners whom they had not previ-
ously met (DePaulo, Kenny, Hoover, Webb, & Oliver, 1987). After each interaction with
their partners, participants had to report on the impressions they had conveyed to the
partner. The researchers found that the participants were generally accurate in report-
ing the kind of impression their behavior communicated. They also were aware of how
their behavior changed over time during the interaction and how it changed over time
with different partners.
Another study also found that people are fairly accurate in identifying how they
come across to others (Kenny & Albright, 1987); they also consistently communicate
the same impression over time (Colvin & Funder, 1991). People tend to overestimate
how favorably they are viewed by other people, however. When they err, it is on the
side of believing that they have made a better impression than they actually have.
However, sometimes we can assume that other people recognize how we are really
feeling, especially when we wish they could not. It appears, according to research by
Thomas Gilovich and his coworkers, that we believe our internal feelings show more
than they actually do (Gilovich, Savitsky, & Medvec, 1998). In general, we seem to
overestimate the ability of others to “read” our overt behavior, how we act and dress.
spotlight effect Gilovich and his colleagues called this the spotlight effect, suggesting that we as actors
A phenomenon occurring think others have us under a spotlight and notice and pay attention to what we do. This
when we overestimate the increased self-consciousness seems to be the basis of adult shyness: Shy people are so
ability of others to read our
aware of their actions and in¬rmities that they believe others are focused (the spotlight)
overt behavior, how we act
on them and little else. The reality of social life is quite different and most of us would
and dress, suggesting that
be relieved to know that few in the crowd care what we do or think. For example, in
we think others notice and
pay attention to whatever one study, college students wore a T-shirt with the ever-popular Barry Manilow on the
we do. front, and the wearers much overestimated the probability that others would notice the
T-shirt. The spotlight does not shine as brightly as we think.
Chapter 2 The Social Self 57

Gilovich and colleagues (1998) believe that we have the same preoccupation (that
others notice and pay attention to our external actions and appearance) with respect to
illusion of transparency
our hidden, internal feelings. They called this the illusion of transparency, the belief
The belief that observers can
that observers can read our private thoughts and feelings because they somehow “leak
read our private thoughts and
out.” In one of the studies designed to test the illusion of transparency, Gilovich and
feelings because they somehow
colleagues hypothesized that participants who were asked to tell lies in the experiment
leak out.
would think that the lies were more obvious than they really were. Indeed, that was the
result. In a second experiment, participants had to taste something unpleasant but keep
a neutral expression. If, say, your host at a dinner party presented a dish you thoroughly
disliked, you might try to eat around the edges for politenessʼ sake and not express
disgust. How successful might you be at disguising your true feelings? The tasters in the
Gilovich studies thought that they would not be very successful at all. Instead, observers
were not likely to discern that the tasters were disgusted with the food or drink. Again,
people overestimated the ability of others to determine their true, internal feelings.
Although most people seem to have a good sense of the impression they make on
other people, some do not. In fact, some people never ¬gure out that they are creating
a bad impression. In a study designed to look at why some people do not seem to pick
up on the cues that they are making a bad impression, individuals were observed inter-
acting with people who had continually made either good or bad impressions (Swann,
Stein-Seroussi, & McNulty, 1992). Swann and his coworkers found that participants
said basically the same generally positive things to both types of individuals. However,
they acted differently toward the two types of individuals. They directed less approving
nonverbal cues (such as turning away while saying nice things) at negative-impression
individuals than at those who made positive impressions.
The researchers concluded that there are two reasons why people who continually
make bad impressions do not learn to change. First, we live in a “white-lie” society in
which people are generally polite even to someone who acts like a fool. Second, the
cues that people use to indicate displeasure may be too subtle for some people to pick
up (Swann et al., 1992).


The Life of James Carroll Revisited
In our brief examination of the life and work of best-selling author James Carroll, we
had the opportunity to see how the authorʼs personal life”his family, his teachers, and
his religion, as well as the momentous social events that occurred during his forma-
tive years”shaped and in¬‚uenced both his personal and social selves. Certainly, these
events provided Mr. Carroll with rich materials for his writings, which include 10 ¬ction
and non¬ction books.
Social Psychology
58


Chapter Review
1. What is the self?
The self is, in part, a cognitive structure, containing ideas about who and what
we are. It also has an evaluative and emotional component, because we judge
ourselves and ¬nd ourselves worthy or unworthy. The self guides our behavior
as we attempt to make our actions consistent with our ideas about ourselves.
Finally, the self guides us as we attempt to manage the impression we make
on others.
2. How do we know the self?
Several sources of social information help us forge our self-concept. The
¬rst is our view of how other people react to us. From earliest childhood and
throughout life, these re¬‚ected appraisals shape our self-concept. We also get
knowledge about ourselves from comparisons with other people. We engage in
a social comparison process”comparing our reactions, abilities, and personal
attributes to those of others”because we need accurate information in order to
succeed. The third source of information about ourselves is observation of our
own behavior. Sometimes, we simply observe our behavior and assume that
our motives are consistent with our behavior. Finally, one may know the self
through introspection, the act of examining our own thoughts and feelings.
3. What is distinctiveness theory?
Distinctiveness theory suggests that people think of themselves in terms of the
characteristics or dimensions that make them different from others, rather than
in terms of characteristics they have in common with others. An individual is
likely to incorporate the perceived distinctive characteristic into his or her self-
concept. Thus, distinctive characteristics help de¬ne our self-concept.
4. How is the self organized?

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