Impression management and self-expression (Goffman) (2023)

key points

  • Impression management is the conscious or unconscious attempt to influence other people's perception of a person, object or event by regulating and controlling information in social interaction.
  • People often engage in impression management to achieve goals that require them to create a desired public image. This activity is called self-introduction.
  • In sociology and social psychology, self-expression is the conscious or unconscious process by which people attempt to control other people's impressions of them.
  • The goal is for everyone to present themselves as they would like to be seen by the person or group they are interacting with. This form of leadership generally refers to the first impression.
  • Erving Goffman popularized the concept of perception management in his book.The presentation of each in everyday life, where he argues that impression management not only affects the way other people treat you, but is also an integral part of social interaction.

In this article

Sociological Impression Management

Impression management, also known as self-expression, refers to the way people try to control how they are perceived by others (Goffman, 1959).

By conveying certain impressions about their abilities, attitudes, motives, status, emotional responses, and other characteristics, people can influence others to respond to them in desirable ways.

Impression management is a common way for people to influence each other to achieve various goals.

While earlier theorists (eg, Burke, 1950; Hart & Burk, 1972) offered perspectives on the person as an actor, Goffman (1959) was the first to develop a specific theory of self-representation.

In his well-known work, Goffman laid the groundwork and defined the principles of what is commonly known as impression management.

In explicitly establishing a purpose for his work, Goffman (1959) proposes to consider "the way in which the individual presents himself and his activity to others in ordinary work situations, the way in which he creates the impression they leave behind, directs and controls.” do . And the kind of things you can or can't do as long as I keep performing for you."

social interaction

Goffman saw the handling of impressions not only as a means of influencing how other people treat you, but also as an essential part of social interaction.

He communicates this vision through the concept of theatre. Actors perform different performances to different audiences, and actors and audiences cooperate to negotiate and maintain the definition of a situation.

For Goffman, the self was not something solid that resided in individuals, but rather a social process. For social interactions to run smoothly, each participant must project a public identity that guides the behavior of others (Goffman, 1959, 1963; Leary, 2001; Tseelon, 1992).

Goffman defines that when people are in the presence of others, we communicate information through intentional verbal methods and unintentional nonverbal methods.

According to Goffman, individuals participate in social interactions by performing a "line" or "pattern of verbal and nonverbal actions through which they express their view of the situation and thereby their assessment of the participants, especially themselves". (1967). , p. 5).

These lines are created and maintained by both the performer and the audience. Effectively describing a line gives a person positive social value, or "face."

Verbal intention methods allow us to determine who we are and what we want to communicate directly. We should use these methods for most of the actual data communication.

Goffman is primarily interested in the non-verbal cues that emerge and are less easy to manipulate. If these traces are manipulated, the receiver often still has the advantage of determining how realistic the transmitted traces are.

People use these cues to determine how to treat a person and whether the intended verbal responses are genuinely honest. It is also known that most people give cues that help portray them in a positive light, which the recipient tends to compensate for.

Impression Management Techniques

  • suppress emotions: Maintain self-control (which we will identify with practices such as speaking succinctly and modestly).
  • According to situational norms: The executor follows the rules of conduct agreed in the organization.
  • flatter others: The artist congratulates the recipient. This tactic works best when the flattery isn't extreme and has an important dimension to the recipient.
  • to be consequent: The beliefs and behaviors of the artist are consistent. There is agreement between the performer's verbal and non-verbal behavior.

Examples of self-expression

can influence self-introductionemotional experience. For example, people may become socially anxious when they are motivated to make a desired impression on others but have doubts about their ability to do so successfully (Leary, 2001).

In an article on self-expression and emotional experience, Schlenker and Leary (1982) argue that in contrast to drive models of anxiety, the individual's cognitive state mediates both arousal and behavior.

Researchers examine traditioninverted U performance anxiety curve(commonly known as the Yerkes-Dodson law) in this light.

(Video) Goffman Impression Management

Researchers assume that people are safe in interpersonal relationships when they are not aimed at creating a certain impression on others.

They are not directly interested in the judgmental reactions of others in a social setting where they are trying to make a particular impression and believe they will succeed.

Meanwhile, when people aren't sure how to project a certain impression (e.g., they don't know what qualities are likely to impress the other person), people are anxious, believing that they can't project these kinds of things of images that evoke the preferred responses, two more

These people believe they cannot project the desired image strongly enough, or they believe that an event will occur that belies their self-presentation and damages their reputation (Schlenker & Leary, 1982).

Psychologists have also studied impression management in connection withmental and physical health.

In one of these studies, Braginsky et al. (1969) showed that patients with schizophrenia vary the severity of their "disturbed" behavior based on whether it is more beneficial for them to appear more or less "disturbed" (Leary, 2001).

Additional research on college students shows that people can exaggerate or even fabricate reports of psychological distress when doing so to achieve their social goals.

Hypochondria seems to have self-expression traits in which people convey impressions of illness and injury when helping to achieve desired outcomes, such as: B. Obtaining support or avoiding responsibility (Leary, 2001).

People can also behave dangerously for reasons of self-expression, such as B. Tanning, unprotected sex and speeding. People may also refuse necessary medical treatment if seeking such treatment damages their public image (Leary et al., 1994).

key components

There are many drivers of impression management and people have many reasons to monitor and regulate how they are perceived by others.

For example, social relationships such as friendship, group membership, romantic relationships, desirable jobs, status, and influence depend in part on whether the person is perceived by others as a certain type of person or with certain characteristics.

Because people's goals depend on making desired impressions, not unwanted ones, people are concerned about what other people think of them.

Although people appear to be constantly monitoring how they are doing, their level of motivation to deal with impressions and the types of impressions they try to promote vary with the situation and the individual (Leary, 2001).

Leary and Kowalski (1990) speak of two processes that make up impression management, each working on different principles and being influenced by different situations and dispositional aspects.
The first of these processes is impression motivation and the second is impression construction.

pressure motivationprint construction
Objective relevance of impressionsself concept
value of desired goalsDesired and undesired identity images
Deviation between target and actual imagerole restrictions

pressure motivation

There are three main factors that influence people's motivation to deal with the impressions of a situation (Leary & Kowalski, 1990):

(1) The extent to which people believe their public image is relevant to achieving desired goals.

When people believe that their public image is relevant to achieving their goals, they are generally more motivated to control how others perceive them (Leary, 2001).

On the other hand, if other people's impressions have little impact on one's own results, that person's motivation to manage impressions will be lower.

Because of this, people are more likely to control impressions in their interactions with powerful, high-status individuals than with less powerful, lower-status individuals (Leary, 2001).

(2) How valuable are the goals: The more valuable the goals to which their public impressions are relevant, the more likely people are to impress and manage (Leary, 2001).

(3) How big is the gap between how you want to be perceived and how you think others perceive you.

People are more motivated to deal with impressions when there is a difference between how they want to be perceived and how they think others perceive them.

For example, public scandals and embarrassing events that create undesirable impressions can lead people to engage in self-expression efforts to repair what they perceive to be their damaged reputations (Leary, 2001).

print construction

The characteristics of the social situations in which people find themselves, as well as their own personalities, determine the type of impressions they try to convey.

In particular, Leary and Kowalski (1990) mention five sets of factors that are particularly important in generating impressions (Leary, 2001).

(Video) Presentation of Self and Impression Management: Erving Goffman's Sociology

Two of these factors include how people relate to themselves (self-concept and desired identity) and three, how people relate to others (role constraints, objective value, and current or potential social image) (Leary & Kowalski, 1990). .

self concept

The impressions people try to create are influenced not only by social context, but also by their own experiences.self concept.

Typically, people want others to "see them for who they really are" (Leary, 2001), but this conflicts with the fact that people need to consciously manage their impressions in order for others to see them properly (Goffman, 1959). .

People's self-concepts can also limit the images they try to convey.

People often believe that presenting impressions of themselves that differ from who they really are is unethical, and they often doubt that they can successfully maintain a public image that is inconsistent with their true characteristics (Leary , 2001).

This risk of failing to convey a misleading image and the social sanctions that come with it discourage people from conveying conflicting impressions about how they see themselves (Gergen, 1968; Jones & Pittman, 1982; Schlenker, 1980).

People can differ in how congruent their self-portrayal is with their self-perception.

People with high public self-perceptions have less correspondence between their private and public selves than people with low public self-perceptions (Tunnell, 1984; Leary & Kowalski, 1990).

desired identity

People's wanted and unwanted selves, how they want to be and don't want to be inside, also influences the images they try to project.

Schlenker (1985) defines a desirable identity image as "what a person wants to be and believes they can really be, at least in their prime".

People tend to manage their impressions so that their images fit their desired selves and steer clear of images that fit their undesirable selves (Ogilivie, 1987; Schlenker, 1985; Leary, 2001).

This happens when people publicly claim attributes consistent with their desired identity and openly reject identities they do not wish to be associated with.

For example, someone who hates fanatics might do anything to avoid appearing bigoted, and Gergen and Taylor (1969) showed that high-status umbilical cadets did not conform to low-status umbilical cadets because they didn't want to see themselves as conformists. (Leary & Kowalski, 1990).

objective value

People tailor their self-expression to the values ​​of the individuals whose perceptions interest them.

This can sometimes lead people to fabricate identities that they believe others will appreciate.

More often, however, people selectively present true aspects of themselves that they believe align with the values ​​of the person they are printing to, and withhold information that they believe will be viewed negatively by others (Leary, 2001).

role restrictions

the content of people's self-portrayals is influenced by the roles they assume and the norms of their social context.

In general, people want to convey impressions that match theirsroles and norms.

Many roles even include self-presentation requirements about what kinds of impressions people in roles should and shouldn't convey (Leary, 2001).

(Video) Impression management | Individuals and Society | MCAT | Khan Academy

Current or potential social image

People's choice of public image is also influenced by how they think others perceive them. Similar to impression motivation, self-presentation behavior can often aim to dispel unwanted impressions that others have of a person.

When people believe that others have or might develop an unwelcome impression of them, they usually try to refute this negative impression by showing that they are different from what others think they are.

If they cannot refute this negative impression, they may project desirable impressions onto other aspects of their identity (Leary, 2001).


In the presence of other people, few human behaviors are unaffected by their desire to capture particular impressions. Even when they're not specifically trying to present a private impression of themselves, people are constrained by concerns about their public image.

This often manifests itself in people trying to avoid making unwanted impressions in virtually all areas of social life (Leary, 2001).

Tedeschiet al. (1971) argued that phenomena previously attributed by psychologists to people's need for cognitive consistency actually reflected efforts to maintain an impression of consistency in the eyes of others.

Studies supported the suggestion by Tedeschi and colleagues that phenomena previously attributed to cognitive dissonance were in fact influenced by self-expression processes (Schlenker, 1980).

Psychologists have applied self-representation to the study of phenomena as broad as conformity, aggression, prosocial behavior, leadership, negotiation, social influence, gender, stigma, and intimate relationships (Baumeister, 1982; Leary, 1995); Dangling, 1980; Tedeschi, 1981).

Each of these studies shows that people's efforts to impress others affect these phenomena; and finally that which relates to the self-expression of private social life.

For example, research shows that people are more likely to be socially helpful when their help is advertised and behave more prosocially when they seek to repair a damaged social image by being helpful (Leary, 2001).

Likewise, many instances of aggressive behavior can be explained as self-expression efforts to show that one is willing to hurt others in order to get what one wants.

This can go as far as gender roles, where evidence shows that men and women behave differently because of the nature of the impressions that men and women are expected to have in society.


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Gergen, KJ & Taylor, M.G. (1969). Social expectation and self-representation in a status hierarchy. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 5, 79-92.

Goffman, E. (1959). The Moral Career of the Insane. Psychiatry, 22(2), 123-142.

(Video) Impression Management: How to influence and control people. Erving Goffman

Goffman, E. (1963). Shame and social organization.

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Goffman, E. (2002). The representation of each in daily life. 1959. Garden City, New York, 259.

Martey, R.M. and Consalvo, M. (2011). Playing the Mirror Self: Avatar Appearance and Group Identity in Second Life.popular communication, 9(3), 165-180.

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Leary MR (1995) Self-expression: dealing with impressions and interpersonal behavior. Westview Press, Boulder, CO.

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