In sociology and social psychology, impression management is a goal-directed conscious or unconscious process in which people attempt to influence the perceptions of other people about a person, object or event; they do so by regulating and controlling information in social interaction (Piwinger & Ebert 2001, pp. 1–2). It is usually used synonymously with self-presentation, in which a person tries to influence the perception of their image.
The social comparison theory (Festinger, 1954) is the idea that there is a drive within individuals to look to outside images in order to evaluate their own opinions and abilities. These images may be a reference to physical reality or in comparison to other people.
There are two main motives that govern self-presentation. One is instrumental: we want to influence others and gain rewards (Schlenker 1980, pp. 92). There are three instrumental goals. The first is Ingratiation, when we try to be happy and display our good qualities so that others will like us (Schlenker 1980, pp. 169). The second is intimidation, which is aggressively showing anger to get others to hear and obey us. The third is supplication, when we try to be vulnerable and sad so people will help us and feel bad for us.
The second motive of self-presentation is expressive. We construct an image of ourselves to claim personal identity, and present ourselves in a manner that is consistent with that image. If we feel like this is restricted, we exhibit reactance/be 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 "preacher’s daughter", whose suppressed personal identity and emotions cause an eventual backlash at her family and community.
Concerning the strategies followed to establish a certain impression, the main distinction is between defensive and assertive strategies. Whereas defensive strategies include behaviours like avoidance of threatening situations or means of self-handicapping, assertive strategies refer to more active behaviour like the verbal idealisation of the self, the use of status symbols or similar practices.
Glossary List >