Psychology Of Self-Monitoring Research Paper

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According to the theory of self-monitoring, people differ in the extent to which they monitor (i.e., observe and control) their expressive behavior and self-presentation (Snyder 1974, 1987). Individuals high in self-monitoring are thought to regulate their expressive self-presentation for the sake of public appearances, and thus be highly responsive to social and interpersonal cues to situationally appropriate performances. Individuals low in self-monitoring are thought to lack either the ability or the motivation to regulate their expressive self-presentations for such purposes. Their expressive behaviors are thought instead to reflect their own inner states and dispositions, including their attitudes, emotions, self-conceptions, and traits of personality.

Research on self-monitoring typically has employed multi-item, self-report measures to identify people high and low in self-monitoring. The two most frequently employed measuring instruments are the 25 true–false items of the original Self-monitoring Scale (Snyder 1974) and an 18-item refinement of this measure (GangestAdvand Snyder 1985; see also Lennox and Wolfe 1984). Empirical investigations of testable hypotheses spawned by self-monitoring theory have accumulated into a fairly sizable published literature (for a review of the literature, see GangestAdvand Snyder 2000).

1. Major Themes Of Self-Monitoring Theory And Research

Soon after its inception, and partially in response to critical theoretical issues of the times, self-monitoring was offered as a partial resolution of the ‘traits vs. situations’ and ‘attitudes and behaviors’ controversies in personality and social psychology. The propositions of self-monitoring theory suggested that the behavior of low self-monitors ought to be predicted readily from measures of their attitudes, traits, and dispositions whereas that of high self-monitors ought to be best predicted from knowledge of features of the situations in which they operate. Self-monitoring promised a ‘moderator variable’ resolution to debates concerning the relative roles of person and situation in determining behavior. These issues set the agenda for the first generation of research and theorizing on self-monitoring, designed primarily to document the relatively ‘situational’ orientation of high self-monitors and the comparatively ‘dispositional’ orientation of low self-monitors (for a review, see Snyder 1987).

In a second generation of research and theorizing, investigations moved beyond issues of dispositional and situational determination of behavior to examinations of the linkages between self-monitoring and interpersonal orientations. Perhaps the most prominent of these programs concerns the links between expressive control and interpersonal orientations, as revealed in friendships, romantic relationships, and sexual involvements (e.g., Snyder et al. 1985). Other such programs of research concern advertising, persuasion, and consumer behavior (e.g., Snyder and DeBono 1985), personnel selection (e.g., Snyder et al. 1988), organizational behavior (Caldwell and O’Reilly 1982, Kilduff 1992), socialization and developmental processes (e.g., Eisenberg et al. 1991, Graziano and Waschull 1995), cross-cultural studies (e.g., Gudykunst 1985).

Central themes in these programs of research have been that high self-monitors live in worlds of public appearances created by strategic use of impression management, and that low self-monitors live in worlds revolving around the private realities of their personal identities and the coherent expression of these identities across diverse life domains. Consistent with these themes, research on interpersonal orientations has revealed that high, relative to low, self-monitors choose as activity partners friends who will facilitate the construction of their own situationally-appropriate images and appearances (e.g., Snyder et al. 1983). Perhaps because of their concern with images and appearances, high self-monitors have romantic relationships characterized by less intimacy than those of low self-monitors. Also consistent with these themes, explorations of consumer attitudes and behavior have revealed that high self-monitors value consumer products for their strategic value in cultivating social images and public appearances, reacting positively to advertising appeals that associate pro- ducts with status and prestige; by contrast, low self- monitors judge consumer products in terms of the quality of the products stripped of their image-creating and status-enhancing veneer, choosing products that they can trust to perform their intended functions well (e.g., DeBono and Packer 1991). These same orientations manifest themselves in the workplace as well, with high self-monitors preferring positions that call for the exercise of their self-presentational skills; thus, for example, high self-monitors perform particularly well in occupations that call for flexibility and adaptiveness in dealings with diverse constituencies (e.g., Caldwell and O’Reilly 1982) whereas low self-monitors appear to function best in dealing with relatively homogeneous work groups.

It should be recognized that, although these programs of research, for the most part, have not grounded their hypotheses or interpretations in self- monitoring’s traditionally fertile ground—issues concerning the dispositional vs. situational control of behavior—they do nevertheless reflect the spirit of the self-monitoring construct. That is, their guiding themes represent clear expressions of self-monitoring theory’s defining concerns with the worlds of public appearances and social images, and the processes by which appearances and images are constructed and sustained. However, it should also be recognized that these lines of research go beyond showing that individual differences, in concern for cultivating public appearances, affect self-presentational behaviors. These programs of research have demonstrated that these concerns, and their manifestations in expressive control, permeate the very fabric of individuals’ lives, affecting their friendship worlds, their romantic lives, their interactions with the consumer marketplace, and their work worlds.

2. The Nature Of Self-Monitoring

Despite their generativity, the self-monitoring construct and its measure have been the subject of considerable controversy over how self-monitoring ought to be interpreted and measured. The roots of this controversy are factor analyses that clearly reveal that the items of the Self-monitoring Scale are multifactorial, with the emergence of three factors being the most familiar product of these factor analyses (Briggs et al. 1980). These factor analyses, and attempts to interpret them, have stimulated a critically important question: Is self-monitoring truly a unitary phenomenon?

Although there is widespread agreement about the multifactorial nature of the items of the Self-monitoring Scale, there exist diverging viewpoints on the interpretation of this state of affairs. One interpretation is that some criterion variables represented in the literature might relate to one factor, other criterion variables to a second independent factor, and yet others to still a third factor—an interpretation which holds that self-monitoring is not a unitary phenomenon (e.g., Briggs and Cheek 1986).

Without disputing the multifactorial nature of the self-monitoring items, it is nevertheless possible to construe self-monitoring as a unitary psychological construct. Taxonomic analyses have revealed that the self-monitoring subscales all tap, to varying degrees, a common latent variable that may reflect two discrete or quasidiscrete self-monitoring classes (GangestAdvand Snyder 1985). In addition, the Self-monitoring Scale itself taps a large common factor accounting for variance in its items and correlating, to varying degrees, with its subscales; this general factor approximates the Self-monitoring Scale’s first unrotated factor (Snyder and Gangestad 1986). Thus, the Self-monitoring Scale may ‘work’ to predict diverse phenomena of individual and social functioning because it taps this general factor; this interpretation is congruent with self-monitoring as a unitary, conceptually meaningfully psychological construct.

Although much of the debate about the nature of the self-monitoring construct has focused on contrasting interpretations of the internal structure of the Self-monitoring Scale, it is possible to consult another source of evidence with which to address the major issues of the self-monitoring controversy—the literature on the Self-monitoring Scale’s relations with criterion variables external to the scale itself (i.e., behavioral, behavioroid, and performance measures of phenomena relevant to self-monitoring theorizing). Based on a quantitative review of the literature on the Self-monitoring Scale’s relations with behavioral and behavioroid external criterion variables, it appears that, with some important exceptions, a wide range of external criteria tap a dimension directly measured by the Self-monitoring Scale (Gangestad and Snyder 2000).

Based on this quantitative appraisal of the self- monitoring literature, it is possible to offer some specifications of what self-monitoring is and what it is not, specifications that may guide the next generations of theory and research on self-monitoring. That is, it is possible to identify ‘exclusionary messages’ about features of self-monitoring theory that should not receive the attention heretofore accorded them (e.g., delimiting the scope of self-monitoring as a moderator variable such that claims about peer-self agreement ought no longer be made, although claims about behavioral variability may yet be made), and to identify ‘inclusionary messages’ about features that should define the evolving agenda for theory and research on self-monitoring (e.g., focusing on the links between self-monitoring and strategic motivational agendas associated with engaging in, or eschewing, impression management tactics that involve the construction of social appearances and the cultivation of images).

3. Conclusions

To some extent, the productivity and generativity of the self-monitoring construct may derive from the fact that it appears to capture one of the fundamental dichotomies of psychology—whether behavior is a product of forces that operate from outside of the individual (exemplified by the ‘situational’ orientation of the high self-monitor) or whether it is governed by influences that guide from within the individual (typified by the ‘dispositional’ orientation of the low self-monitor). In theory and research, self-monitoring has served as a focal point for issues in assessment, in the role of scale construction in theory building, and in examining fundamental questions about personality and social behavior, particularly those concerning how individuals incorporate inputs from their own stable and enduring dispositions and inputs from the situational contexts in which they operate into agendas for action that guide their functioning as individuals and as social beings.

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