Self-monitoring theory, proposed by Mark Snyder (1974), is a contribution to the field of psychology of personality. Some people are sensitive to how others see them, while others are less sensitive or not sensitive at all. Self-monitoring is the process through which people regulate their own behavior in order to “look good” so that they will be perceived by others in a favorable manner (Wikipedia). There are high self-monitors, who care a lot about what other people think and monitor their behavior to fit different situations (Bargh, J. A. (1990). There are low self-monitors, who care a little what other people think (or not at all). This group use own values and motives to guide their behavior. There are others in the middle, practicing moderation, which means they go with the flow. The middle group is also comfortable balancing circumstances and other people’s values. Snyder designed a questionnaire to assess self-monitoring called the Self-Monitoring Scale, based on the assumption that high self-monitoring could be defined as consisting of (Wikipedia):
High concern with the social appropriateness of one’s actions
Use of social comparison information
Ability to monitor one’s behavior to fit different situations
Ability to do this in specific situations
Snyder tested his original version of the Self-Monitoring Scale on Stanford University students, psychiatric inpatients, and on the people in the acting profession. He found that Stanford University students scored significantly higher than psychiatric inpatients, but significantly lower than people in the acting profession. Which implies that people in the acting profession are high self-monitors compared to Stanford University students and Stanford University students’ self monitoring if higher than the psychiatric inpatients.
The theory is of interest in that it provides an impetus to the debate on traits versus situationism. The theory effectively says that trait consistency can be found in low self-monitors, whereas a situationist framework is more appropriate for high self-monitors.
In a social situation, high self-monitors ask, “Who does this situation want me to be and how can I be that person?”(Snyder, 1979). By contrast, low self-monitors ask, “Who am I and how can I be me in this situation?”(Snyder 1979; Kilduff and Day, 1994). Self-monitoring theory, therefore, provider new insight into the age-old question of whether behavior is a function of consistent dispositions or strong situational pressures.
High self-monitors rely on social cues from others to guide their behaviors rather than on their own inner attitudes and emotions, high self-monitors are more likely than low self-monitors to resolve conflict through collaboration and compromise (Baron, 1989).
High self-monitors tend to emerge as leaders perhaps in part because they are more skilled at social interactions (Furnham and Capon, 1983). One study found that low self-monitors attended more too internal cues to produce effective work, whereas high self-monitors attended to situational cause, including the leadership behavior of supervisors (Anderson and Tolson, 1989). High self-monitors are better than low self-monitors at pacing conversations (Dabbs et al., 1980) using humor (Turner, 1980), and reciprocating self-disclosures during acquaintance processes (Shaffer, Smith, and Tomarelli, 1982).
High self-monitors carefully adjust their behaviors according to feedback they get from others. They manipulate their interpersonal interactions to give the most effective impression and to produce the desired effect. Low self-monitors, in contrast, are not concerned with the image they present. Rather, they communicate their thoughts and feeling openly, without trying to manipulate the impressions they create. (Devito, 2006).
Friedman, H. S. and Miller-Herringer, T. (1991) pointed out that certain situations dictate self monitoring motives and behaviors. They argue that people show more happiness, and in general, more expressive activity when triumphing while alone in the room than when others are present. In general, high self-monitors are successful at hiding their happiness when appropriate; and they do so in particular ways whereas, low self-monitors tend not to conceal their emotions. Another interesting study on “Self-Monitoring and the Self-Attribution of Positive Emotions” was conducted by Graziano, W. G. and Bryant, H. M. (1998). The authors in their study used the Valins heart-rate feedback. The effect, as the study concludes, was moderated in both men and women by Self-Monitoring.
Although too much self-monitoring can be problematic, people who are aware of their behavior and the impression it makes are more skillful communicator than people who are low self-monitors. For example, they are more accurate in judging others emotional states, better at remembering information about others, less shy and more assertive. By contrast, low self-monitors aren’t able even to recognize their incompetence. One study revealed that poor communicators were blissfully ignorant of their shortcomings and more likely to overestimate their skill than were better communicators (Adler and Towne, 2006).
According to self-monitoring theory, individuals differ in the extent to which they are willing and able to monitor and control their self-expressions in social situations. Some people resemble successful actors or politicians in their ability to find the appropriate words and behaviors for a range of quite different social situations.
High self-monitors are acutely aware of situational cues and of what is and is not appropriate in a specific situation. Thus, such individuals’ behavior is predominantly situation specific. High self-monitors are flexible and adaptable. They display different behavior from situation to situation. And low self-monitors are less vigilant and less concerned with what is or is not appropriate and, consequently, will attempt to behave consistently across relationships. Low self-monitors change little form situation to situation.
Snyder (1987) hypothesized that self-monitoring tendencies influence the kind of relationships that people form. He argues that a typical romantic relationship develops from a superficial stage to one in which relational partners explore fundamental values but that not all individuals progress at the same rate through the various stages.
As inquires into the nature and processes of the self, theory and research on self-monitoring reflect a somewhat different perspective. Self monitoring may be conscious and non-conscious. There are high self-monitors, low self-monitors, and some are in the middle. This theory has been used in many areas and can also be used in many more areas. The concept of self-monitoring is one of the oldest and most enduring in psychological and philosophical considerations of human nature.