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Impression management

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In sociology and social psychology, impression management is a goal-directed con
scious or unconscious process in which people attempt to influence the perceptio
ns of other people about a person, object or event; they do so by regulating and
controlling information in social interaction (Piwinger & Ebert 2001, pp. 12). I
t is usually used synonymously with self-presentation, in which a person tries t
o influence the perception of their image. The notion of impression management a
lso refers to practices in professional communication and public relations, wher
e the term is used to describe the process of formation of a company's or organi
zation's public image.

[hide] 1 Self-presentation
2 Motives and strategies
3 Theory
4 Basic factors
5 Erving Goffman
6 Social psychology 6.1 Self, social identity and social interaction

7 The media
8 Significance in empirical research and economy
9 See also
10 Footnotes
11 References
12 External links


While impression management and self-presentation are often used interchangeably
, some authors have argued that they are not the same. In particular, Schlenker
(1980) believed that self-presentation should be used to describe attempts to co
ntrol self-relevant (pp. 6) images projected in real or imagined social interaction
s. This is because people may manage impressions of entities other than themselve
s such as businesses, cities and other individuals (Leary & Kowalski 1990). Self
presentations are building blocks to interpersonal communications, relations ar
e contingent upon how people manage their impressions upon other people. [1]

Motives and strategies[edit]

Self-presentation is expressive. We construct an image of ourselves to claim per
sonal identity, and present ourselves in a manner that is consistent with that i
mage.[2] If we feel like this is restricted, we exhibit reactance or are defiant
. We try to assert our freedom against those who would seek to curtail our self-
presentation expressiveness. A classic example is the idea of the "preachers daug
hter", whose suppressed personal identity and emotions cause an eventual backlas
h at her family and community.

People adopt many different impression management strategies. One of them is ing
ratiation, where we use flattery or praise to increase our social attractiveness
by highlighting our better characteristics so that others will like us (Schlenk
er 1980, pp. 169).

Another strategy is intimidation, which is aggressively showing anger to get oth
ers to hear and obey us.[3]

A strategy that has garnered a great amount of research attention is self-handic
apping.[4] In this case people create 'obstacles' and 'excuses (Aronson et al. 20
09, pp. 174) for themselves so that they can avoid self-blame when they do poorl
y. People who self-handicap choose to blame their failures on obstacles such as
drugs and alcohol rather than their own lack of ability. Other individuals devis
e excuses such as shyness, anxiety, negative mood or physical symptoms as reason
s for their failure.[4]

Concerning the strategies followed to establish a certain impression, the main d
istinction is between defensive and assertive strategies. Whereas defensive stra
tegies include behaviours like avoidance of threatening situations or means of s
elf-handicapping, assertive strategies refer to more active behaviour like the v
erbal idealisation of the self, the use of status symbols or similar practices.[

These strategies play important roles in one's maintenance of self-esteem.[6] On
e's self-esteem is affected by his evaluation of his own performance and his per
ception of how others react to his performance. As a result, people actively por
tray impressions that will elicit self-esteem enhancing reactions from others.[7


Impression management (IM) theory states that any individual or organization mus
t establish and maintain impressions that are congruent with the perceptions the
y want to convey to their publics.[8] From both a communications and public rela
tions viewpoint, the theory of impression management encompasses the vital ways
in which one establishes and communicates this congruence between personal or or
ganizational goals and their intended actions which create public perception.

The idea that perception is reality is the basis for this sociological and socia
l psychology theory,[citation needed] which is framed around the presumption tha
t the others perceptions of you or your organization become the reality from whic
h they form ideas and the basis for intended behaviors.

Basic factors[edit]

A range of factors that govern impression management can be identified. It can b
e stated that impression management becomes necessary whenever there exists a ki
nd of social situation, whether real or imaginary. Logically, the awareness of b
eing a potential subject of monitoring is also crucial. Furthermore, the charact
eristics of a given social situation are important. Specifically, the surroundin
g cultural norms determine the appropriateness of particular nonverbal behaviour
s.[9] The actions have to be appropriate to the targets, and within that culture
, so that the kind of audience as well as the relation to the audience influence
s the way impression management is realized. A person's goals are another factor
governing the ways and strategies of impression management. This refers to the
content of an assertion, which also leads to distinct ways of presentation of as
pects of the self. The degree of self-efficacy describes whether a person is con
vinced that it is possible to convey the intended impression.[10]

A new study finds that, all other things being equal, people are more likely to
pay attention to faces that have been associated with negative gossip than those
with neutral or positive associations. The study contributes to a body of work
showing that far from being objective, our perceptions are shaped by unconscious
brain processes that determine what we "choose" to see or ignore even before we
become aware of it. The findings also add to the idea that the brain evolved to
be particularly sensitive to "bad guys" or cheaters fellow humans who undermine
social life by deception, theft or other non-cooperative behavior.[11]

There are many methods behind self-presentation: including self disclosure (iden
tifying what makes you "you" to another person), managing appearances(trying to
fit in), ingratiation, aligning actions (making your actions seem appealing or u
nderstandable), and alter-casting (imposing identities on other people). These s
elf-presentation methods can also be used on the corporate level as impression m

Erving Goffman[edit]

Main article: Erving Goffman

Strategic interpersonal behavior to shape or influence impressions formed by an
audience is not a new field. Plato spoke of the "stage of human life"[13] and Sh
akespeare crafted the famous sentence "All the world's a stage, and all the men
and women merely players".[14] In the 20th century, Erving Goffman also followed
a dramaturgical analogy in his seminal book The Presentation of Self in Everyda
y Life, in which he said, "All the world is not, of course, a stage, but the cru
cial ways in which it isn't are not easy to specify."[8]

Goffman presented impression management dramaturgically, explaining the motivati
ons behind complex human performances within a social setting based on a play me
taphor.[15] Goffman's work incorporates aspects of a symbolic interactionist per
spective,[16] emphasizing a qualitative analysis of the interactive nature of th
e communication process.

The actor, shaped by the environment and target audience, sees interaction as a
performance. The objective of the performance is to provide the audience with an
impression consistent with the desired goals of the actor.[17] Thus, impression
management is also highly dependent on the situation.[18] In addition to these
goals, individuals differ in responses from the interactional environment, some
may be irresponsive to audience's reactions while others actively respond to aud
ience reactions in order to elicit positive results. These differences in respon
se towards the environment and target audience are called self-monitoring.[19] A
nother factor in impression management is self-verification, the act of conformi
ng the audience to the person's self-concept.

The audience can be real or imaginary. IM style norms, part of the mental progra
mming received through socialization, are so fundamental that we usually do not
notice our expectations of them. While an actor (speaker) tries to project a des
ired image, an audience (listener) might attribute a resonant or discordant imag
e. An example is provided by situations in which embarrassment occurs and threat
ens the image of a participant.[20]

Social psychology[edit]

The social psychologist, Edward E. Jones, brought the study of impression manage
ment to the field of psychology during the 1960s and extended it to include peop
les attempts to control others' impression of their personal characteristics.[21]
His work sparked an increased attention towards impression management as a fund
amental interpersonal process.

Self, social identity and social interaction[edit]

The concept of self is important to the theory of impression management as the i
mages people have of themselves shape and are shaped by social interactions (Sch
lenker 1980, pp. 47). Our self-concept develops from social experience early in
life.[22] Schlenker (1980) further suggests that children anticipate the effect
of their behaviours will have on others and how others will evaluate them, they
control the impressions they might form on others and in doing so they control t
he outcomes they obtain from social interactions.

Social identity refers to how people are defined and regarded in social interact
ions (Schlenker 1980, pp. 69). Individuals use impression management strategies
to influence the social identity they project to others.[22] The identity that p
eople establish influences their behaviour in front of others, others' treatment
of them and the outcomes they receive. Therefore, in their attempts to influenc
e the impressions others form of themselves, a person plays an important role in
affecting his social outcomes.[23]

The media[edit]

This section requires expansion. (October 2009)

The medium of communication influences the actions taken in impression managemen
t. Self-efficacy can differ according to the fact whether the trial to convince
somebody is made through face-to-face-interaction or by means of an e-mail.[19]
Communication via devices like telephone, e-mail or chat is governed by technica
l restrictions, so that the way people express personal features etc. can be cha
nged. This often shows how far people will go.

Social networking users will employ protective self-presentations for image mana
gement. Users will use subtractive and repudiate strategies to maintain a desire
d image. [24] Subtractive strategy is used to untag an undesirable photo on Soci
al Networking Sites. In addition to un-tagging their name, some users will reque
st the photo to be removed entirely. Repudiate strategy is used when a friend po
sts an undesirable comment about the user. In response to an undesired post, use
rs may add another wall post as an innocence defense. Michael Stefanone states t
hat self-esteem maintenance is an important motivation for strategic self-present
ation online. [25] Outside evaluations of their physical appearance, competence,
and approval from others determines how social media users respond to pictures a
nd wall posts. Unsuccessful self-presentation online can lead to rejection and c
riticism from social groups.

Significance in empirical research and economy[edit]

This section requires expansion. (October 2009)

Impression management can distort the results of empirical research that relies
on interviews and surveys, a phenomenon commonly referred to as "social desirabi
lity bias". Impression management Theory nevertheless constitutes a field of res
earch on its own.[26] When it comes to practical questions concerning public rel
ations and the way organizations should handle their public image, the assumptio
ns provided by impression management theory can also provide a framework.[27]

An examination of different impression management strategies acted out by indivi
duals who were facing criminal trials where the trial outcomes could range from
a death sentence, life in prison or acquittal has been reported in the forensic
literature.[28] The Perri and Lichtenwald article examined female psychopathic k
illers, whom as a group were highly motivated to manage the impression that atto
rneys, judges, mental health professions and ultimately, a jury had of the murde
rers and the murder they committed. It provides legal case illustrations of the
murderers combining and/or switching from one impression management strategy suc
h as ingratiation or supplication to another as they worked towards their goal o
f diminishing or eliminating any accountability for the murders they committed.

Since the 1990s, researchers in the area of sport and exercise psychology have s
tudied self-presentation. Concern about how one is perceived has been found to b
e relevant to the study of athletic performance. For example, anxiety may be pro
duced when an athlete is in the presence of spectators. Self-presentational conc
erns have also been found to be relevant to exercise. For example, the concerns
may elicit motivation to exercise. [29]

More recent research investigating the effects of impression management on socia
l behaviour showed that social behaviours (e.g. eating) can serve to convey a de
sired impression to others and enhance ones self-image. Research on eating has sh
own that people tend to eat less when they believe that they are being observed
by others [30]